Matuidi strike keeps France on track
Blaise Matuidi scored the only goal of the game as France won 1-0 in Bulgaria on Saturday to move to within a win of a place at next summer's FIFA World Cup.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying Group A
Levski Stadium, Sofia
Bulgaria 0-1 France
Needing to pick up all three points to ensure they remained out in front in Group A following Sweden's 8-0 win over Luxembourg earlier in the day, Didier Deschamps' men could hardly have asked for a better start in the driving rain in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.
Lucas Digne, first-choice left-back in the absence of the injured Benjamin Mendy, picked the ball up on his flank, crossed and found Antoine Griezmann — his first-time touch played in Blaise Matuidi, who fired across Plamen Iliev from a tight angle, finding the far side of the net (3').
Iliev then kept out Kylian Mbappé after the Paris Saint-Germain striker had been played through by N'Golo Kanté (16') before Corentin Tolisso fired a long-range shot that flashed thrillingly close to the target (20').
Griezmann (26') and Alexandre Lacazette (29') both failed to capitalise on good opportunities before the injury-enforced withdrawal of Kanté, who limped off holding the back of his left thigh (34'), was the prelude to the hosts' best first-half chance.
When Hugo Lloris shovelled an angled drive awkwardly out to Spas Delev, he headed back into the six-yard box where Georgi Kostadinov was only denied an equaliser by a brilliant reflex parry from a flying Lloris. Simeon Slavchev fired over the loose ball to waste another opportunity to test the France goalkeeper (37').
A breathtaking burst of acceleration saw Mbappé fire over (44'), but two shots sent either side of Lloris' goal early in the second half signalled Bulgaria's intent not to allow the visitors an easy ride.
What followed was an error-strewn performance from France, who seemed gripped by the tension created by their own inability to create an opportunity for a second goal and the stakes at play.
A number of minor scares and promising situations occurred and came to nothing at either end of the pitch as France held on to claim all three points and again move a point clear of Sweden. Victory over Belarus at the Stade de France on Tuesday will leave them certain of their place in Russia next summer.
THE PLAYER: Kylian Mbappé
Played on the left side of the front three, the Paris Saint-Germain striker was his country's most lively and credible threat. Though he did not find the net, his movement and pace looked most likely to give Les Bleus breathing space.
THE STAT: 85
This was France's first win in Bulgaria in eight attempts — their previous victory dated to 9 June 1932 (5-3), 85 years ago.