GOMEL, Belarus (Reuters) – France secured at least a World Cup playoff spot and maintained their slim hopes of automatic qualification when they came from behind to beat bottom side Belarus 4-2 away in their World Cup Group I qualifier on Tuesday.
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Franck Ribery twice cancelled out Egor Filipenko and Timofei Kalachev’s goals early in the second half before substitute Samir Nasri and Paul Pogba found the back of the net to end the team’s five-game scoreless streak in style.
France are level with group leaders Spain on 14 points but the world champions are likely to finish top as they have a game in hand, a superior goal difference and home games against Belarus and Georgia to come.
France finish off at home to Finland, who are third on nine points but out of the running. The French are now assured of being one of the best eight runners-up as the second-placed teams from all the other eight groups containing six teams lose the points gained against the bottom team when their records are compared.
France, who had not scored in their five previous games, started with Karim Benzema on the bench, the Real Madrid striker having failed to find the back of the net in his 15 previous outings with Les Bleus.
“Mission accomplished tonight,” coach Didier Deschamps told French TV channel TF1.
“We were not the worst team on Friday (after a 0-0 draw in Georgia), we are not the best today. There was some tension because of the importance of the game.”
Ribery added: “We knew that with Spain in the group we would finish second. It’s done.”
Les Bleus fell behind in the 32nd minute when Hugo Lloris could not handle Filipenko’s weak downward header.
The visitors were awarded a penalty when Ribery was brought down by keeper Sergei Veremko less than one minute into the second half, which the Bayern Munich player coolly converted.
Ribery came close in the 54th but his low shot from the edge of the box went just wide.
Belarus, however, went ahead again in the 57th as Lloris inexplicably let Timofei Kalachev’s long-range angled shot in.
Ribery again levelled by poking the ball home from a Mathieu Valbuena cross in the 64th.
Nasri, who came in for Dimitri Payet at the hour, put his team ahead with a low shot in the 70th, with midfielder Pogba scoring from close range after Laurent Koscielny had fluffed an easy attempt.
France will warm up for the October 15 Finland game with a friendly home match against Australia at the Stade de France four days earlier.
Writing by Julien Pretot in Paris, editing by Mitch Phillips
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