Dembele inspires France to 2-0 win in Kazakhstan, helps it secure first win in WC qualifying group

Dembele scored his third international goal from 23 appearances, his first since a 3-1 friendly win against Italy in June 2018.

France players celebrate after France's Ousmane Dembele (second right) scored his side's opening goal during the World Cup 2022 group D qualifying soccer match between Kazakhstan and France at the Astana Arena stadium in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Sunday, March 28, 2021.   -  AP

Ousmane Dembele inspired France to a 2-0 victory over Kazakhstan on Sunday in its second match in World Cup qualifying Group D.

Four days after being held 1-1 by Ukraine at the Stade de France, the world champion built its win in the first half with Sergiy Maliy's own goal adding to Dembele's opener before Kylian Mbappe missed a second-half penalty.

France moved top of the standings with four points, ahead of its Wednesday opponents Bosnia, Ukraine and Finland.

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Ukraine hosts Finland later on Sunday. Kazakhstan has zero points after playing its first game of the campaign.

Only captain Hugo Lloris and Antoine Griezmann remained from the team who started against Ukraine, with the Barcelona forward setting a new record of 45 consecutive starts for Les Bleus.

He beat the previous mark of Patrick Vieira, who started 44 games in a row between 1999 and 2002.

It was Griezmann's club teammate Dembele who broke the deadlock at the 20th minute with a right-footed shot after being set up by Anthony Martial following a defence-splitting pass from Paul Pogba.

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Dembele has just returned to the France side, coming on as a second-half substitute against Ukraine more than two years after his previous cap in November 2018.

His third international goal from 23 appearances, his first since a 3-1 friendly win against Italy in June 2018, came as a welcome boost less than two months before coach Didier Deschamps names his squad for this year's European Championship.

Les Bleus doubled the lead on the stroke of halftime when Maliy, who had just denied Martial, headed a cross into his own net.

France was never threatened and had a big opportunity to add a third in the 76th minute, but Mbappe's spot-kick was saved by Aleksandr Mokin.