Antoine Griezmann played chief tormentor as France sprung back into life to end a five-game winless streak by beating visitors Finland 2-0 in a World Cup Group D qualifier on Tuesday.
Griezmann struck in each half after his partnership with Karim Benzema bore fruit in satisfying fashion to put the world champions on 12 points from six matches at the top of the group.
Finland, who had a decent opening half, are third on five points but have two games in hand of the French.
Bosnia are fourth on three points from four games after a 2-2 draw with bottom side Kazakhstan, who also have three points. Ukraine are second on five points from as many matches.
“Even it was not perfect we showed determination and with that came some more technical quality,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
“We had more confidence, it was more like us. It’s a very important result for us, now we have to finish the job in November.”
After two 1-1 draws against Bosnia and Ukraine, Deschamps’ tinkering paid off as France started in an usual 5-2-3 formation with Leo Dubois and Theo Hernandez as fullbacks and Griezmann, Anthony Martial and Benzema up front.
But it was Finland who had the first clear chance through Urho Nissila, whose floating strike was tipped over the bar by Hugo Lloris.
Les Bleus, however, were on the attack and Lukas Hradecky pulled off a nice save in the 22nd minute to deny Benzema.
Griezmann found the back of the net when he whipped the ball past Hradecky with the outside of his foot after collecting a clever deflection in the box by Benzema on 25 minutes.
Finland continued to threaten on the break, but France proved clinical early in the second half.
After some more nice work from Benzema, Dubois found Griezmann in the area and the forward sneaked the ball between Hradecky and the left-hand post to give the hosts some breathing space in the 53rd.
He has now scored 41 international goals to become France’s joint third all-time top scorer alongside Michel Platini.
Shortly afterwards, Martial missed Hernandez’s cross for what would have been France’s third.
France controlled the end game, keeping the ball high on the pitch and creating a few chances through Benzema, who had a night to remember on his visit to his former stadium, 12 years after leaving Olympique Lyonnais for Real Madrid.
Portugal make light work of Azerbaijan despite Ronaldo absence
Portugal cruised to a 3-0 victory away to Azerbaijan in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday to move top of Group A.
Portugal were without Cristiano Ronaldo, who was suspended after picking up a yellow card while celebrating his second goal in their last-gasp 2-1 victory over Ireland last week, but his absence was not felt as first-half strikes from Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva plus a Diogo Jota header secured victory.
The visitors, who were rarely troubled throughout, took the lead after 26 minutes as Bernardo latched onto Bruno Fernandes’s deep cross to volley in at the back post.
Fernandes was heavily involved again as Portugal doubled their lead, this time his cross was turned across goal by Jota for Andre Silva, who tapped in from close range.
Jota then rounded off the victory 15 minutes from fulltime, heading in Joao Cancelo’s centre.
The victory takes Fernando Santos’s side to the top of Group A with 13 points – three ahead of their qualification rivals Serbia, who visit Ireland later on Tuesday.
Depay treble sends Dutch top
Memphis Depay scored a hat-trick as the Netherlands ran out 6-1 winners over 10-man Turkey at the Amsterdam Arena on Tuesday to go top of World Cup qualifying Group G.
It was the first international treble for the 27-year-old striker as the Dutch posted an emphatic victory for the second time in four days to reach 13 points from six games and take over from Turkey at the head of the section.
Davy Klaassen scored in the opening minute in a dream start for the home side, who had lost 4-2 to Turkey in Istanbul in March at the start of the qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 finals, before Depay added three more, including a penalty.
Guus Til scored the fifth 10 minutes from time and Donyell Malen added a sixth in stoppage time before a consolation goal for Cengiz Under.
Turkey slipped from top to third in the group as they stayed on 11 points with Norway moving second, behind the Dutch on goal difference, after beating Gibraltar 5-1 on Tuesday.
The Netherlands picked up where they left off after an emphatic 4-0 win over Montenegro on Saturday to snatch the lead as Klaassen combined with Depay to score almost straight from the kick off.
An aggressive Dutch approach led to Klaassen then providing the assist for Depay’s first goal in the 17th minute as they doubled the score and it was 3-0 at halftime after Depay converted a 38th-minute penalty.
Caglar Soyuncu was booked for a foul on Klaassen to concede the spot kick, which was awarded after a VAR check. The Turkey defender was then sent off for a second caution on the stroke of halftime.
Depay completed his hat-trick with a diving header on the goal-line to touch home Steven Berghuis’s cross in the 54th minute before Til and Malen sealed the win with two more goals.
The one blemish came from a errant pass from goalkeeper Justin Bijlow that allowed Under to score for Turkey with the last kick of the game.
It was a triumphant night for veteran coach Louis van Gaal at the start of his third spell as coach. He had just days to prepare the team for their draw in Norway last Wednesday but has since engineered two emphatic wins and a clear path to automatic qualification.
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