PARIS (Reuters) – Mathieu Valbuena scored a goal and created two others as France beat Georgia 3-1 to leapfrog Spain at the top of World Cup qualifying Group I on Friday ahead of next week’s clash between the two heavyweights at Stade de France.
France were clinical rather than impressive and one of the biggest roars of the evening came when the stadium announcer confirmed world champions Spain had been held 1-1 by Finland.
"It’s better to play Spain with a two-point lead rather than being two or three behind. But we shouldn’t get carried away and start thinking we’ve qualified," France coach Didier Deschamps told a news conference.
"We’re in the best position at the moment but now we have to play Spain. It won’t change anything to their plan – they intended to come to win here anyway."
The one sour note, Deschamps said, was the goal France conceded which could be crucial if goal difference decides the outcome of the group.
The visitors long frustrated France, and the crowd, but their defence was breached on the stroke of halftime when Olivier Giroud headed home a neat Valbuena free kick.
Valbuena, who had scored in France’s two previous games, doubled the lead in the 47th minute with a powerful half-volley and then delivered a cross for Franck Ribery to make it 3-0.
Georgia, who had their chances in the first half, were rewarded for their efforts with 20 minutes left when Alexander Kobakhidze took advantage of a deflected cross to find the net.
France top the group with 10 points from four games, two ahead of Spain.
The only frustration for the French was Karim Benzema’s continued goal drought.
He failed to convert two chances in the first half and has now failed to score in 11 games.
Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps had chosen to start with two strikers in Giroud and Benzema but the home side hardly troubled Georgia in the opening 30 minutes.
Giroud missed the first clear-cut chance when he was through one-on-one and Benzema also failed from good positions.
France keeper Hugo Lloris was forced to parry a powerful Kobakhidze attempt away and the crowd were becoming restless until Giroud spared his team mates getting jeered off when he opened the scoring with a header.
Valbuena’s quick goal after the break allowed Deschamps to rest some of his players ahead of the Spain clash with Valbuena just having time to set up Ribery before he and key midfielder Blaise Matuidi were taken off.
Another plus for the coach was promising debuts for central defender Raphael Varane and midfielder Paul Pogba, both of whom stated a case for inclusion next Tuesday.
"I was not worried about picking them. Both of them showed a lot of potential, quality. It’s only a stage in their careers, but they were not inhibited and that’s good," Deschamps said.
(Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Mark Meadows)
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