2018 World Cup Qualifying - UEFA, Group Stage
  • Antoine Griezmann (27')
  • Olivier Giroud (33')
  • Anton Saroka (44')

Antoine Griezmann leads France to win and place at 2018 World Cup

Antoine Griezmann scored one and made another as France secured World Cup qualification with a narrow 2-1 victory over Belarus in Paris.

Les Bleus went into the game needing victory to guarantee their place in Russia next summer and they quickly took control as Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann slotted in the 27th-minute opener before teeing up strike partner Olivier Giroud for the second soon after.

Anton Saroka halved the deficit just before the break but Belarus were unable to spoil the party at the Stade de France as Didier Deschamps' side ensured they retained top spot in Group A ahead of Sweden and Netherlands.

Despite being held to a 0-0 draw when they met Belarus in Barysaw last September, France were heavy favourites to win this one.

The 1998 world champions began brightly and Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane forced a corner when his header was denied by Belarus goalkeeper Syarhey Chernik with 18 minutes played.

Arsenal striker Giroud went even closer minutes later as he nodded against the crossbar from a dangerous ball into the box.

The home supporters were encouraged by their team's early dominance but, given Les Bleus' last qualifier on French soil ended in a shock goalless stalemate with minnows Luxembourg in Toulouse, they would have been taking nothing for granted.

Griezmann eventually eased any nerves when he opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark.

Midfielder Blaise Matuidi slipped in the pacey forward and he retained his composure to calmly slot the ball past the onrushing Chernik and into the bottom right corner.

Belarus were struggling to get to grips with their more talented opponents and they fell further behind in the 33rd minute.

Griezmann turned provider this time, intercepting a sloppy pass from Stanislav Dragun and feeding Giroud, who held off two defenders before finding the bottom left corner with a scruffy finish from 12 yards.

It looked as though the floodgates might open but the hosts saw their advantage halved a minute before the interval.

Belarus forward Saroka, who had shot narrowly over a minute earlier, darted across the front of centre-back Varane in the France penalty area and coolly turned Yuri Kovalev's low cross into the far corner.

With Holland's 2-0 half-time lead over Sweden in Amsterdam providing France with extra security at the top of the group, Deschamps' side appeared to take their foot off the gas at the start of the second period.

They did little to suggest they would restore the two-goal advantage and could have been pegged back to 2-2 in the 64th minute when Saroka squandered the opportunity to grab his second by firing narrowly wide of the right post.

The hosts had introduced substitute Kylian Mbappe moments before the big chance for Saroka and the Paris Saint-Germain teenager attempted to have an immediate impact with a long-range shot which was well saved by Chernik.

From then on there was very little goalmouth action at either end and the hosts successfully wound down the clock to book a place at a sixth successive World Cup.