France took a huge step towards World Cup qualification with an uninspired 1-0 victory over Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia.
The win sends them back to the summit of Group A and secures at the very least a play-off spot, but they go into Tuesday’s home game against Belarus knowing three points will confirm their place in Russia next year.
The game’s only goal came in just the third minute as Blaise Matuidi thumped in from close range, with Antoine Griezmann and Corentin Tolisso missing chances to extend the lead.
The only downside on a comfortable evening for Didier Deschamps was the first-half withdrawal of N’Golo Kante, who picked up a hamstring strain.
The defeat ends Bulgaria’s slim hopes of grabbing a play-off berth and they will be left to rue a first-half miss from Spas Delev, which would have pulled them level.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) October 7, 2017
France’s rich array of attacking talent wasted little time in stamping their authority on the game, combining in sublime style to open the scoring inside just three minutes.
Lucas Digne played an incisive ball into the feet of Griezmann and the Atletico Madrid star cleverly teed up Matuidi, who powerfully slotted into the far top corner from an acute angle.
The visitors nearly scored a second after 15 minutes when Kylian Mbappe demonstrated his breathtaking speed to burst past Nikolay Bodurov, forcing Plamen Iliev into a smart save.
Tolisso then drilled a shot narrowly wide from distance before Griezmann flashed a half-volley agonisingly past Iliev’s post as Deschamps’ side threatened to run riot.
Bulgaria had to wait until the 36th minute for their first sight of goal and only a miraculous save from Hugo Lloris denied them a leveller.
The goalkeeper’s initial fumble from Todor Nedelev’s long-range shot allowed Spas Delev an unmarked header from close range, but the Tottenham star redeemed himself in spectacular fashion to acrobatically claw away the striker’s effort.
Clearly content to settle for a 1-0 win, France offered nothing in the way of attacking intent in the second half.
Their approach was best summed up with five minutes to go when substitute Olivier Giroud opted to run the ball into the corner instead of attempting a shot on goal from an inviting position.
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