France ended Finland’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time as a 2-0 win in Helsinki condemned the Nordic nation to third place in UEFA qualifying Group D.
With France’s place at Qatar 2022 already secured, attention in the group was firmly on the battle for a place in the play-offs between Finland and Ukraine.
Finland began the night in the box seat, two points ahead of Ukraine, but the situation was turned on its head in the second half.
Oleksandr Zinchenko and Artem Dovbyk secured a 2-0 win for Ukraine over Bosnia-Herzegovina while Karim Benzema’s deflected strike and a superb individual effort from Kylian Mbappe saw the reigning world champions claim maximum points as Finland fell at the final hurdle.
A long-range Mbappe effort was the most threatening chance France could muster in a first half where both sides had just one shot on target.
France were forced to withdraw Leo Dubois after he was injured late in the opening period, with Benjamin Pavard filling in at right-back after the break.
The change had no impact on France’s control of the game, with Les Bleus’ backline rarely tested, and it was the visitors who eventually found a way through in somewhat fortuitous fashion in the 66th minute
Benzema and Mbappe played a neat one-two and the Real Madrid forward’s effort nicked off Leo Vaisanen and beyond Lukas Hradecky.
Finland’s goalkeeper was beaten in more convincing fashion 10 minutes later, Mbappe burning Vaisanen for pace down the left and bending an unerring finish into the bottom-right corner.
Hradecky’s brilliant save denied Mbappe a second, with the Paris Saint-Germain star’s second-half performance illustrating the gulf in class that made sure Finland will watch next year’s World Cup from home.
4 – Karim Benzema has scored in each of his last four international games, becoming the first to do so with France since himself between November 2013 and June 2014 (5 games). Boss. #FINFRA pic.twitter.com/h29B0aI0XZ
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) November 16, 2021
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