France seal World Cup berth
By D. Crossan
Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud scored the goals as France won 2-1 at home to Belarus to book their place at the FIFA World Cup 2018.
FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying Group A
Stade de France, Saint-Denis
France 2-1 Belarus
The UEFA EURO 2016 finalists came through a tricky qualifying section that also contained Sweden and the Netherlands. While France were not always at their fluent best, the main thing was securing first place and automatic qualification.
Didier Deschamps’ side were dominant from the off as the France boss reverted to the 4-4-2 formation used to destroy the Dutch at the end of August. Les Bleus were dangerous in the air and Raphaël Varane had already forced Nancy goalkeeper Sergueï Tchernik into a good save with a header before the recalled Giroud nodded a Kingsley Coman cross against the bar.
France made the breakthrough in the 27th minute. Blaise Matuidi, the scorer in the 1-0 win in Bulgaria last weekend, turned creator as he slipped in Griezmann behind the defence. The Atletico Madrid forward controlled well and finished left-footed between Tchernik’s legs.
Six minutes later France appeared to be coasting towards Russia as Griezmann latched onto a poor pass out from the back and fed Giroud, who enjoyed some good fortune as he managed to find the back of the net by virtue of a ricochet.
Belarus pulled one back on the stroke of half-time to keep the suspense alive. Meeting an Anton Kovalev cross from the right, Anton Saroka got in front of Varane to provide a clever finish for his first international goal on his fourth appearance for his country.
News filtering through of the Dutch dominance of Sweden spared the Stade de France crowd any jitters. Belarus were playing to avoid bottom place in the section – something they failed to do - and should have equalised just past the hour when Saroka missed the unmissable, unmarked and six yards out. France sub Kylian Mbappé was cheered onto the field and bent one goalwards approaching the final 20 minutes. France suffered in the second half and Saroka again spurned a chance in stoppage-time but Les Bleus can now make their plans for next summer.
THE PLAYER: Olivier Giroud
The Arsenal forward replaced club-mate Alexandre Lacazette in the starting eleven and came up with the goods. A 28th international goal in 68 games took the tall striker one clear of Karim Benzema in the all-time list for France and moved him into joint-seventh place with Youri Djorkaeff.
THE STAT: 12
France will feature at their 12th straight major tournament since missing out on qualifying for the World Cup in the United States in 1994.