France’s World Cup qualifying campaign suffered an unexpected blow as Didier Deschamps’ side were held to a 0-0 draw by Luxembourg.
Luc Holtz’s minnows, ranked 136th by FIFA, battled tirelessly to earn arguably the most impressive result in the country’s history in Toulouse, keeping a star-studded France line-up full of attacking prowess at bay.
The hosts peppered the Luxembourg goal with shots throughout the contest and Antoine Griezmann rattled the crossbar with a first-half free-kick, while Kylian Mbappe tormented defenders with his pace.
But Luxembourg goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert had the game of his life, pulling off a string of world-class saves to deny the likes of Paul Pogba and Djibril Sidibe when they looked certain to score.
A stunning story almost had an even more sensational finish when Luxembourg substitute Gerson Rodrigues struck the base of the post late on, as France narrowly avoided further ignominy on an already humbling evening.
The result leaves Les Bleus top of Group A by just one point after second-placed Sweden beat Belarus 4-0 to narrow the gap, and Deschamps’ men must deliver victories in October’s games against Bulgaria and Belarus to make sure of their place at Russia 2018.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) September 3, 2017
Deschamps made one change to the team that so devastatingly beat Netherlands 4-0 last time out, rewarding Mbappe for his goalscoring performance as a substitute with a starting place ahead of Kingsley Coman.
The Paris Saint-Germain loanee burst down the left flank after 11 minutes and cut the ball back only for Griezmann to aim too high with his shot, and moments later Joubert recovered from a mistake to save another Griezmann attempt.
The pressure on Joubert’s goal steadily increased and Pogba tested the goalkeeper with a low drive before Luxembourg forward Vincent Thill gave the hosts a scare, firing narrowly over the crossbar after racing clear of the France defence.
It took a brilliant one-handed save from Joubert at full stretch to keep out Pogba’s 20-yard shot after 36 minutes, and Griezmann shook the crossbar with a thunderous free-kick two minutes later, but half-time arrived with the scoresheet blank.
Frustration began to grow around the stadium as Luxembourg continued to soak up waves of France pressure in the second half and added a degree of composure to their play when in possession.
Deschamps sent on Coman and Alexandre Lacazette for Mbappe and Olivier Giroud after 59 minutes, while Joubert continued his heroics for Luxembourg, saving low to his left from a Sidibe header at close range.
Layvin Kurzawa headed wide from the edge of the box after 68 minutes before Luxembourg’s Chris Philipps made vital blocks to prevent shots by Griezmann and Lacazette while Pogba nodded against the crossbar as the tension mounted.
France’s night was very nearly completely ruined in the 78th minute when Rodrigues broke clean through on goal and beat Hugo Lloris with a shot that came back off the far post, allowing the home crowd to breathe a sigh of relief.
But there was no breakthrough at the other end as further late chances went begging and Holtz’s side held on to clinch a famous result.
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