Griezmann and Giroud secure top spot as France eases into 2018 World Cup

France ended its World Cup qualification campaign with a home victory over Belarus in Paris to secure top spot in Group A.

Published : Oct 11, 2017 02:37 IST

France striker Antoine Griezmann celebrates after scoring the side's second goal against Belarus on Tuesday.
France striker Antoine Griezmann celebrates after scoring the side's second goal against Belarus on Tuesday.

France striker Antoine Griezmann celebrates after scoring the side's second goal against Belarus on Tuesday.

Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud combined to secure a 2-1 win for France over Belarus that wrapped up a spot at the World Cup in Russia for the 1998 champion. 

France was assured of a play-off spot before kick-off on Tuesday but had Sweden sitting just a point behind, potentially ready to capitalise on any slip-up from the hosts in Paris.

Having drawn in Belarus in their Group A opener last September, France put on only a marginally more convincing showing at the Stade de France against opponents who had lost their previous three matches.

Both sides dropped points to supposed minnows Luxembourg in the previous international break, but this result left them at opposite ends of the group.

READ: European champion Portugal trumps Swiss to book World Cup berth

Griezmann coolly opened the scoring in the 27th minute and then turned provider for strike partner Giroud as France capitalised on some woeful Belarus defending.

The home crowd's rousing rendition of La Marseillaise was cut short by Anton Saroka's surprise goal just before the break and the same man should have levelled matters up in the 65th minute.

Didier Deschamps' side were not entirely comfortable in seeing the game out, even after the warmly received second-half introduction of Kylian Mbappe, but they are nonetheless Russia-bound.

The coach made three changes from the side that kicked off Saturday's 1-0 win over Bulgaria, calling in Kingsley Coman, Thomas Lemar and Giroud, as N'Golo Kante, Mbappe and Alexandre Lacazette dropped out.

And his team started well, with Giroud heavily involved.

The Arsenal forward climbed to meet Lucas Digne's teasing cross early on but failed to make clean contact and saw his header drift harmlessly wide.

Belarus were indebted to goalkeeper Sergey Chernik after he made an instinctive one-handed stop from Raphael Varane's close-range header following a goalmouth scramble in the 19th minute.

France continued to press and came even close to an opener two minutes later, Giroud leaping to nod Coman's delivery onto the crossbar, with Chernik a mere spectator.

The deadlock was eventually broken by Griezmann, who took Blaise Matuidi's throughball in his stride and slotted through Chernik's legs.

Griezmann then quickly seized on some sloppy play at the back from the visitor, which was left with a mountain to climb when the Atletico Madrid star picked out Giroud, whose deflected effort squirmed into the bottom-left corner.

READ: Robben-inspired win not enough as Netherlands fails to qualify for 2018 World Cup

But, after Saroka had fired a vicious warning shot narrowly over Hugo Lloris' bar, he found the back of the net from Yuri Kovalev's cross.

Mbappe – who, along with Griezmann, was this week nominated for the Ballon d'Or – came on to a rapturous reception just past the hour mark, with France needing inspiration to make the points safe.

It was evident, however, that Igor Kriushenko's men sensed an opportunity to take something from the game and Saroka should have doubled his tally five minutes after Mbappe's arrival, only to shoot wide from inside the six-yard box with the goal at his mercy.

Stirred into action, Mbappe saw a long-range effort sting Chernik's palms, with France building some late momentum.

The Paris Saint-Germain youngster took a tumble in the box at the end of a surging run, with his hopeful appeals for a penalty waved away.

For a side with only one win to its  name in the group, Belarus proved refreshingly positive until the end and Saroka saw one final chance come and go, but it was France celebrating at the final whistle.

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