France fin­ish off job

Deschamps’ side far from flu­ent but avoid play-offs for first time since 2005

Sport360 - - Football - By Gre­gory Wil­liams edi­to­rial@sport360.com @Sport360

France clinched qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the World Cup thanks to goals from An­toine Griez­mann and Olivier Giroud in a hard-fought win over Be­larus.

Di­dier Deschamps’s side suc­cess­fully com­pleted their tricky chal­lenge of beat­ing Bul­garia and Be­larus in their fi­nal two qual­i­fiers to en­sure they won their group.

The vic­tory meant they avoided the ten­sion of the play-offs that they had to en­dure to reach the last two World Cup fi­nals.

But al­though they top Group A, Deschamps’ team were less than con­vinc­ing at the Stade de France as al­ready elim­i­nated Be­larus re­peat­edly pen­e­trated their rear­guard.

“We are happy, even if qual­i­fy­ing is log­i­cal given the qual­ity of the play­ers I have,” said Deschamps, who also paid trib­ute to the French sup­port­ers.

“We now have an at­mos­phere that we haven’t had for a while and peo­ple are com­ing and get­ting fully be­hind the team.”

Giroud said he was de­lighted to have avoided the play­offs.

“We chased this game and it wasn’t easy be­cause they were strong and ef­fi­cient in at­tack un­til the fi­nal whis­tle and we had to roll up our sleeves,” the Arse­nal for him­self ward said. “We’re all re­lieved tonight to have ended the cam­paign with au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion.”

Deschamps started with Atletico Madrid striker Griez­mann and the aerial threat of Giroud, and the former eased nerves in the 27th minute, pro­duc­ing a con­fi­dent low fin­ish from Blaise Ma­tu­idi’s smart pass.

Six min­utes later, Griez­mann in­ter­cepted a weak pass out of the Be­larus defence from Stanislav Dra­gun and fed Giroud, who man­aged to shrug off two de­fend­ers to bun­dle in his 28th in­ter­na­tional goal from 12 yards out. But the French de­fen­sive pair­ing of Barcelona’s Sa­muel Umtiti and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane then went to sleep, al­low­ing Be­larus to re­duce the gap when the lively An­ton Saroka swept past Hugo Lloris a minute be­fore half-time.

France had ap­peared to take their foot off the pedal after news of Nether­lands’ com­mand­ing lead over sec­ond-placed Swe­den fil­tered through and Saroka gave the hosts an­other jolt when he shot just wide in the 64th minute, but he was nar­rowly off­side.

Paris Saint-Ger­main star­let Kylian Mbappe was in­tro­duced in the sec­ond half to in­ject pace and fresh ideas, but with the sec­onds tick­ing down to the fi­nal whis­tle, it was Saroka again who slid a shot just wide from close range.

World at his feet: Olivier Giroud scores what turned out to be the win­ner for France.

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