Giroud comes to France's rescue against Moldova

Les Bleus

An Olivier Giroud penalty gave France a hard-fought 2-1 win over a valiant Moldova in Paris on Thursday to take the FIFA World Cup winners top of UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying Group H.

Thursday, 14 November, 2019

UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying, Group H

Stade de France, Saint-Dénis

France 2-1 Moldova

Turkey's goalless draw with Iceland meant France knew they — and Turkey — had already secured their places in next summer's final tournament, which perhaps explained Les Bleus' lacklustre first-half performance.

The blank scoreline in Istanbul should have been a spur to Didier Deschamps' men, who — behind Turkey on their head-to-head record — knew victory at the Stade de France would allow them to steal a march on their rivals at the top of Group H with just one game to go. Finishing top would give them a handy advantage come the group stage draw ahead of their 13th successive major tournament finals.

The realistic prospect of finishing first in the section did not seem to bring French minds into sharp focus, however. When Clément Lenglet twice miscued headers back to Steve Mandanda, Vadim Rata was able to wrap a leg around the hesitant Barcelona defender and poke the ball into the net to give Moldova a shock lead (9').

A reaction was required and Giroud tried his best to provide it. Though he had only played some 15 minutes of competitive football since the October international break, the out-of-favour Chelsea forward looked surprisingly sharp. He nearly touched in Lucas Digne's cross at the near post (12'), and when another centre from the Everton full-back ricocheted into the box, Giroud threw himself at the ball and flashed a header narrowly wide (29').

With the injured Hugo Lloris watching on from the stands, France laboured, but scrapped their way back into the game before the break. Antoine Griezmann's free-kick was spilled by goalkeeper Alexei Koselev under pressure from Giroud, and Lloris' replacement as captain, Raphaël Varane, headed into the empty net (35').

Against a side whose new coach had only been appointed late last month and which had lost eight of its nine qualifiers, Deschamps was expecting a lot more from his men in the second half. He got it.

Mbappé shot over after brilliantly making space for himself (46') before Benjamin Pavard fired a dangerous cross across the face of goal (48'). Giroud was still lively and teed up Mbappé for a shot that was courageously blocked (51') before firing a half-volley wide (59') and a volley over the crossbar (60') as the hosts desperately sought a second goal.

Rata fired wide to warn France the job was not done, and at the other end, they replied. Digne and Mbappé played a one-two and the former was scythed down inside the area by Veaceslav Posmac — Giroud seized the ball, and send Koselev the wrong way with a thumping finish from the spot (78').

Giroud would have had a second but for a good save low down from Koselev (88') while brave defending from the visitors continued to frustrate the hosts' ambitions right through to the final whistle.

THE PLAYER: Olivier Giroud
He may not have the favours of Frank Lampard at Chelsea, but Giroud showed exactly why Deschamps still finds a place for him at the head of the attack. His penalty was his fourth goal in five qualifiers, and puts him on 39 goals from 96 international appearances, just two behind France's second all-time leading scorer, Michel Platini.

France have now lost just once in 20 home games, winning 15 of them. Colombia are the only side to have beaten them in that series with a 3-2 triumph in March 2018.

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