Paris (AFP) – Kevin Gameiro marked his first international start in almost five years with a brace as France came from behind to beat Bulgaria 4-1 and kick-start their World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday.
On their first outing at the Stade de France since losing the Euro 2016 final to Portugal in July, France fell behind to an early Mihail Aleksandrov penalty but Atletico Madrid striker Gameiro — not part of the European Championship squad — got the equaliser.
Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann ensured the home side went into the interval with a comfortable advantage and Gameiro completed an ultimately handsome victory in the second half.
It was France’s first win in Group A of European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and set them up nicely for Monday’s trip to the Netherlands, themselves 4-1 winners at home to Belarus on Friday.
Gameiro, back in favour at the age of 29, started as coach Didier Deschamps made five changes to the side that could only draw 0-0 in Belarus in their opening qualifier a month ago.
Indeed Bulgaria topped the group coming into this encounter thanks to a 4-3 win against Luxembourg in September.
This was their first game under new coach Petar Hubchev and the Stade de France was silenced as they went in front in the sixth minute.
Georgi Milanov was fouled in the area by Bacary Sagna and Aleksandrov stepped up to net the resulting penalty.
This was Bulgaria’s first visit to France since their 2-1 win in 1993 that denied Les Bleus a place at the following year’s World Cup and suddenly the prospect of a repeat performance was on the cards.
Yet this Bulgaria team had let in 14 goals in their previous three matches and France’s formidable firepower eventually proved too much.
France drew level midway through the first period, Sagna making amends for his role in the penalty by crossing from the right for Gameiro, who stooped to head the ball into the far corner past Vladislav Stoyanov.
It was only Gameiro’s second international goal, his first since netting in a friendly in Ukraine in June 2011.
Three minutes later, France were in front when a Payet cross from the left went all the way in without anyone getting a touch.
Disaster had been averted for France and they were then gifted a third goal seven minutes before the break.
The majority of the crowd was more taken by a Mexican wave than by events on the field when suddenly Dimitar Pirgov gifted possession straight to Griezmann on the edge of the area and Euro 2016’s leading scorer applied the finish.
It was one-way traffic at the start of the second half and after Paul Pogba saw a vicious first-time strike from 35 yards flash just wide, France got their fourth goal just before the hour mark.
Layvin Kurzawa found Griezmann on the left and his low ball in was converted by his Atletico team-mate Gameiro for his second of the evening.
His hopes of completing a hat-trick were ended when he was taken off 18 minutes from time to make way for Andre-Pierre Gignac, but France did almost further embellish their lead, Blaise Matuidi seeing an effort come back off the post.
25+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, Liga MX, MLS & World Cup
- Includes ESPN, FOX, Univision, TUDN and more
Favorite Leagues At The Best Price
- Starting price: $7.99/mo. for Live TV Package
- Watch Argentine league, Brasileirāo and Copa Libertadores
- Includes beIN SPORTS, GolTV, TyC Sports and more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, Copa del Rey & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
Live TV, Soccer & Originals
- Starting price: $4.99/mo.
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & more
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
Get All 3 And Save 30%
- $13.99/mo. for ESPN+, Disney+ & Hulu
- Includes Bundesliga, LaLiga, NHL & the home to UFC
- Features Marvel, Star Wars + shows & movies for your entire family