France took control of World Cup qualifying Group I as they punished Spain’s surprise slip against Finland by beating Georgia 3-1 at Stade de France to claim a two-point lead in the group.
Goals from Olivier Giroud and the inspired Mathieu Valbuena either side of half-time were essential for Didier Deschamps’ side, who struggled to break down obstinate opponents for long periods of the opening 45 minutes. Franck Ribery added a fine third for les Bleus before Aleksandr Kobakhidze pounced to score a consolation.
Marseille star Valbuena was to the fore of many of the hosts’ best moves, and it was his free kick that produced the opening goal for Giroud in first-half stoppage-time. His delivery was met by a textbook header from the Arsenal forward that picked out the corner of the net.
It took only moments after the restart for the home side to add to their tally. Giroud and Ribery combined down the left to set up Valbuena to smash home a terrific shot into the roof of the goal.
Quarter of an hour later it was Ribery’s turn to score from a Valbuena pass. The Marseille man showed his confidence with a superb crossfield ball that was fired in at the near post by his former team-mate at Stade Velodrome, who easily beat Zurab Khizanishvili.
When Valbuena was withdrawn to be rested for Tuesday’s match against Spain, France allowed their concentration to slip, and Kobakhidze clinically shot home after a lapse from Mamadou Sakho following a Ucha Lobjanidze cross.
Although Ribery’s fine solo run on six minutes ended with the winger clipping the top of the crossbar, France would be stifled impressively for much of the first half.
Karim Benzema would be particularly profligate, as he scuffed a near post chance wide after fine work for Gael Clichy. The Real Madrid man looked shorn of confidence throughout, and his failure to beat Giorgi Loria when clean through soon after France’s second typified another poor outing for the national side.
Giroud was also guilty of profligacy early on, as he lofted over after another pinpoint pass from the ubiquitous Valbuena.
But it was not completely one-way traffic, and had Hugo Lloris not saved well from Aleksandr Amisulashvili or Kobakhidze when the game was still scoreless, then the outcome may have been very different.
Nevertheless, Deschamps can feel pleased his side have taken control of their section ahead of Tuesday’s crunch encounter against Spain. Win that and France will be well on their way to Brazil 2014.