France finish on a high as 2014 World Cup play-offs await

France finished their World Cup qualifying Group I campaign with a 3-0 win over Finland on Tuesday.

Updated: October 16, 2013 09:43 IST
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Paris: A stunning strike from Franck Ribery, a Joona Toivio own goal and a late volley from Karim Benzema ensured France finished their World Cup qualifying Group I campaign with a 3-0 win over Finland on Tuesday.

The result made no difference to either side though, as Spain's victory over Georgia ensured Didier Deschamps's team finished second in the group and will now face a two-legged November play-off for the right to head to Brazil next year.

France came into the game at the Stade de France knowing they would need a mini-miracle elsewhere in order to qualify directly for the World Cup but buoyed by their 6-0 friendly thrashing of Australia at the Parc des Princes on Friday.

"We sort of expected this scenario and we're not surprised to see Spain have beaten Georgia," said Deschamps who celebrated his 45th birthday with a morale boosting victory.

"We scored six on Friday and three tonight so that will give us confidence and a degree of serenity."

When asked about the prospect of facing Portugal, Croatia, Greece or Ukraine in the November play-offs, the 1998 World Cup winner replied: "I don't really have a preference, they're all different teams, Portugal have (Cristiano) Ronaldo and Croatia are very solid but we'll just concentrate on our preparation." he added.

And things started brightly as Ribery crashed home a spectacular shot from outside the box, using his strength to hold off Kari Arkivuo, then quick feet to shift into a bit of space before firing in off the underside of the bar on eight minutes.

"There will be no easy matches in the play-offs," said the Bayern Munich winger after a dazzling display.

"We just have to be men and play at our highest level over two matches," he added.

He hailed his contribution as "my best goal for France, one o my best goals since I started playing football."

Strangely, though, the hosts lost their way after taking the lead.

Kasper Hamalainen was sent away by a clever ball between Patrice Evra and Eric Abidal but keeper Hugo Lloris came out to save his low shot and spare French blushes.

And yet moments later, Hamalainen again got free down the right before pulling the ball back for Roman Eremenko, who dithered and allowed Blaise Matuidi to block his shot.

The home fans were starting to get frustrated as a burst of Ribery acceleration got him to byline but his pull-back for Valbuena was wasted as the Marseille playmaker took an age to get his shot away and fired over, provoking jeers from the Parisian crowd.

France were almost caught napping at the start of the second half by a quickly-taken free-kick that ended with Teemu Pukki dragging his shot wide.

France finally killed off the game 14 minutes from time as following a patient build-up, Debuchy crossed from the right and Giroud's downward header looked to be heading wide before substitute Toivio, charging back, managed to somehow slam the ball home from a yard out.

Benzema's recent 1,222 minute goalless run in the French team was well and truly behind the Real Madrid striker as the substitute volleyed home a Ribery cross form close range three minutes from time.

"Franck (Ribery) made two decisive passes and we've got to thank him for his work. We played a really good match and will now concentrate on Brazil. We need to qualify for us and for all the French supporters." concluded Benzema.

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