Paris (AFP) – France clinched qualification for the World Cup thanks to goals from Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud in a hard-fought 2-1 win over Belarus on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps’s side successfully completed their tricky challenge of beating Bulgaria and Belarus in their final two qualifiers.
The victory at the Stade de France meant they avoided the tension of the playoffs that they had to endure to reach the last two finals.
But although they finished top of Group A, Deschamps’s team were less than convincing as already-eliminated Belarus repeatedly penetrated their rearguard.
“We are happy, even if qualifying is logical given the quality of the players I have,” said Deschamps, who also paid tribute to the French supporters.
“We now have an atmosphere that we haven’t had for a while and people are coming and getting fully behind the team,” he said.
Giroud said he was delighted to have avoided the playoffs.
“We chased this game and it wasn’t easy because they were strong and efficient in attack until the final whistle and we had to roll up our sleeves,” the Arsenal forward said.
“We’re all relieved tonight to have ended the campaign with automatic qualification.”
Deschamps started with Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann combining with Giroud’s aerial threat, and Griezmann eased nerves in the 27th minute as he produced a confident low finish from Blaise Matuidi’s smart pass.
Six minutes later, Griezmann intercepted a weak pass out of the Belarus defence and fed Giroud, who shrugged off two defenders to bundle in his 28th international goal.
But the French defensive pairing then went to sleep, allowing Belarus to reduce the gap when the lively Anton Saroka swept past Hugo Lloris a minute before half-time.
Saroka gave France another jolt when he shot just wide in the 64th minute, but he was narrowly offside.
Paris Saint-Germain starlet Kylian Mbappe was introduced in the second half to inject pace and fresh ideas, but with the seconds ticking down to the final whistle, it was Saroka again who slid a shot just wide from close range.