France needs strikers to find form against Georgia
CLAIREFONTAINE, France (AP)
Scoring chances could be scarce against a Georgia team expected to defend in numbers, so France will need one of its misfiring forwards to hit form in their World Cup qualifier on Friday.
Karim Benzema has not scored in his past 10 matches for France while Olivier Giroud has scored only twice in 15 appearances for the national team.
France coach Didier Deschamps may drop his preferred 4-2-3-1 system and pair them together for only the second time during his tenure in a more aggressive 4-4-2 against a Georgia team which held out until the 86th minute before losing 1-0 at home to Spain last September.
Attacking midfielder Mathieu Valbuena hopes that playing Giroud and Benzema together will offer more options against a team looking to stifle France's creativity from the outset.
''You have to give them time together and they are capable of doing well. Their role will be crucial against a Georgia team which is likely to sit deep,'' Valbuena said Wednesday. ''They're a difficult team to maneuver and they will come here to defend in numbers. We saw that Spain had problems against them so we'll have to be patient.''
Playing both Benzema and Giroud together means only one of them will play through the middle, forcing the other to push wide. Benzema has played in the wider role before, although he still remains France's best finisher despite his current slump.
''Olivier can hold the ball up back to goal and Karim is there to finish moves off, so they can do some great things together. I hope they show all of their qualities on Friday,'' Valbuena said. ''Karim is a goal scorer. He's scoring a bit less at the moment but he remains a great player.''
Giroud or Benzema have not been guaranteed starters for their respective clubs this season.
Benzema has faced stern competition at Real Madrid from Gonzalo Higuain, while Giroud has sometimes sat on the Arsenal bench when manager Arsene Wenger has preferred Theo Walcott at center forward.
Giroud, who has scored nine league goals so far with the Gunners, considers himself behind Benzema.
''Karim remains the No. 1. What's important is for the team to remain competitive,'' Giroud said. ''People are trying to play us off against each other at the moment, but that's part of the game, it doesn't affect us.''
However, Giroud has made it clear that he does not fancy the wider role if they both get selected against Georgia.
''For me it's a bit difficult and Karim prefers playing center forward,'' he said. ''But in a match where we have to score goals then why not pair us together?''
Benzema remains the highest scorer in France's squad with 15 goals in 55 international appearances - which is pretty meager for a striker of his stature, considering also that he scored 21 league goals for Madrid last season.
The next highest scorer is winger Franck Ribery - 11 in 71 - and behind them no players have more than four international goals. A far cry from the days when Thierry Henry, France's all-time leading scorer with 51, led the attack.
''I think I need to score more goals,'' said Valbuena, who has scored four times for France. ''I'm setting up quite a few but I have to improve on my scoring.''
France has even more reason to rediscover its scoring touch because it will face reigning European and world champion Spain four days later. They are level with seven points, but Spain tops Group I on goal difference.
However, France took a lot of credit from a gutsy 1-1 draw at Spain in October, with Giroud heading a last-gasp equalizer.
''We caused them problems over there and that made us very proud, because the Spanish team has been the best for a number of years,'' Valbuena said. ''But it won't be the same for the return match, they will be concentrating much more.''