France could take a huge step towards World Cup qualification on Tuesday.
Goals from Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery gave Les Bleus a 3-1 home win against Georgia on Friday night, a match in which Didier Deschamps handed full and well deserved first caps to Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba.
This was a game the French were fully expected to win, but little could they imagine they would end the evening at the top of Group I. But that is the position they currently occupy after events in Gijon, where Spain were held to a surprise 1-1 draw at home to Finland.
Sergio Ramos had fired the hosts into the lead early on in the second half, and it then appeared as though their dominance would see them collect the three points. However, the visitors levelled through a rare counter attack on 79 minutes, when Teemu Pukki fired past Victor Valdes.
“We weren’t thinking about France because this was the most important game,” said Ramos, who must have thought he was coasting to the perfect evening after scoring on his 100th international appearance. “Now we can. We have a great team in front of us but we can beat them and we have to go with this mentality. This result is a shame after celebrating my 100th cap with a goal.”
France, who held the World and European champions to a 1-1 draw in Madrid back in October, can go five points clear of their opponents if they beat them in the return in Paris on Tuesday. And with their three remaining matches after this fixture being away trips to Georgia, Belarus and a home game with Finland, a win against the Spanish will put qualification well within sight.
Elsewhere, Fabio Coentrao scored a vital stoppage time equaliser to earn Portugal a 3-3 draw against Israel in Tel Aviv. Both sides are chasing second spot behind runaway leaders Russia in Group F, so the Real Madrid defender’s goal could prove vital in the race to reach Rio.
Belgium and Croatia remain neck-and-neck at the head of Group A, with both the latter beating Croatia 2-0 in a Balkans ‘derby’, whilst Eden Hazard was on target as Marc Wilmots’ side won in Macedonia 2-0. Closer to home in the same group, Wales came from behind to beat Scotland 2-1.