France’s 3-0 win over Finland at the Stade de France ensured that Les Bleus finished FIFA World Cup qualifying Group I in second place behind Spain.
Goals from Franck Ribery, Olivier a Joona Toivio own goal and substitute Karim Benzema did the damage in a relatively comfortable victory for Didier Deschamps’ side.
A 2-0 win for Spain over Georgia ensured that the French could not finish higher than second place, but going into the play-offs, Les Tricolores will be unseeded.
Their dismantling of their mediocre Scandinavian opponents will send a warning signal out to their potential play-off opponents, though, and follows on from the impressive 6-0 demolition of Australia.
Ribery started proceedings for France with a thumping finish from outside the area on eight minutes. After creating the chance for himself, the FC Bayern Munchen man drilled his effort in off the underside of the crossbar.
The hosts could have immediately added to their tally, but they were wasteful in front of goal. France’s complacency began to creep in as the first half progressed.
Finland came back into it, creating a few chances of its own, but it could not take the opportunities that it made for itself. Kasper Hamalainen and Roman Eremenko looked to cause Deschamps’ side problems, but neither could find a goal.
Olivier Giroud made them pay on 76 minutes with a towering header, meeting a pinpoint cross from the excellent Mathieu Debuchy that Toivio could only send into the roof of the net.
Karim Benzema replaced the Arsenal man shortly afterwards.
Six minutes after coming on, the Real Madrid man made it three. Some excellent play from Ribery on the left resulted in a sublime cross that Benzema did well to hook in from close range thanks to brilliant movement.
The score line did not flatter Les Bleus, who gave Deschamps an encouraging 45th Birthday present. It could have been perfect had Georgia managed to do the unthinkable and pull of a win in Albacete though.
With a solid but unspectacular win, a clean sheet will be a huge boost despite a less than convincing defensive showing overall.
Key player grades:
Franck Ribery: A+
France’s main man on the night was Ribery. Central to everything, his goal and assist for Benzema’s third demonstrated his individual importance to the side.
On this sort of form, you will be left wondering what else the 30-year-old has to do in order to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or if he does not sweep the gong this year for helping Les Bleus to qualification.
While his teammates took their foot off the gas after the opening goal, Ribery was constantly probing for openings and looking every bit the talisman that he has become for France recently.
His opening goal was nothing short of sensational. Ribery at his best, losing his men before driving home from outside of the area to immediately put the hosts onto the front foot.
Mathieu Debuchy: A-
A surprise nomination in the top three players from the match, but it is deserved as Debuchy was massively impressive for France.
Given his chance against both Australia and Finland due to Bacary Sagna’s injury, the Newcastle United man has impressed with two good performances.
A constant menace from right back, Debuchy’s speed and work rate on the flank created problems for the Finns.
Not only was his link-up play with Samir Nasri, Mathieu Valbuena and Ribery encouraging, he also found himself in some dangerous positions in front of goal.
Debuchy’s most telling contribution, though, was his cross that created the second goal. A beautiful deep ball into the box that Giroud knocked goalwards with a towering header that Toivio could only send into his own net.
He almost added a second assist minutes later with a second cross, but Loic Remy’s header came back off the post.
Olivier Giroud: B+
Three goals in two games for Giroud in this recent international break caps an impressive contribution from the Arsenal man.
The 27-year-old did not get the same service he enjoyed against Australia, but he still made a nuisance of himself in the Finland defence.
Giroud’s goal was well taken, but his target man performance will have perhaps been more encouraging to Deschamps.
It was by no means a vintage showing, but the former Montpellier man was functional and provided the physical presence that enabled Ribery, in particular, to thrive.
Karim Benzema’s goal deserves individual mention. Although he was only on the pitch for a short space of time, the Real Madrid man made the most of his limited opportunity.
Following a goal scoring substitute appearance against Australia, Benzema did exactly the same against Finland, although the finish was of a higher class.
Ribery’s assist may have been sensational, but the movement required of Benzema to be in a position to score from was also impressive.
His celebration after a lovely hooked finish demonstrates the confidence beginning to flow within the out of favour Real Madrid striker once again.
Although there was little for Finland to cheer on the night, the result belied a few individual performances.
Kasper Hamalainen looked excellent and was a constant source of trouble for France.
Roman Eremenko also posed the hosts some difficulties and stood out in an otherwise mediocre Scandinavian side.
22-year-old Alexander Ring also deserves mention for an encouraging, mature performance in midfield and getting heavily involved. He enjoyed a good chance in the second half.
1-Hugo Lloris (c) - B
2-Mathieu Debuchy - A-
22-Eric Abidal - C-
21-Laurent Koscielny - C
3-Patrice Evra - C+
14-Blaise Matuidi - C
19-Paul Pogba - B
11-Samir Nasri - C+
8-Mathieu Valbuena - B-
7-Franck Ribery - A+
9-Olivier Giroud - B+
Blaise Matuidi off for Yohan Cabaye after 70 minutes. D
Samir Nasri off for Loic Remy after 71 minutes. C+
Karim Benzema on for Olivier Giroud after 81 minutes. B+
1-Niki Maenpaa - B-
13-Kari Arkivuo - D
2-Petri Pasanen - C+
15-Markus Halsti - D
5-Veli Lampi - D
19-Alexander Ring - B-
7-Roman Eremenko - B-
16-Teemu Tainio (c) - C-
21-Kasper Hamalainen - B+
8-Perparim Hetemaj - C+
10-Teemu Pukki - C-
Joona Toivio on for Teemu Tainio after 64 minutes. D-
Kasper Hamalainen off for Riku Riski after 79 minutes. Rating N/A
Teemu Pukki off for Timo Furuholm on 86 minutes. Rating N/A
Lineups via FIFA.com matchcast.
For France, it is a wait to find out who they will face in the World Cup qualifying play-offs next month when the draw is made on Monday.
Potential opponents for Les Bleus are Portugal, Greece, Croatia and Ukraine. Deschamps will be delighted that his wish of avoiding Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden, as reported by Ligue1.com, has been granted.
As for Finland, it is now a long wait until after next summer’s showpiece in Brazil when the 2016 European Championship qualifiers begin.
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