France warms up for Spain by beating Georgia 3-1

France beat Georgia 3-1 to go top of its World Cup qualifying

group on Friday, and pile the pressure on Spain ahead of their

showdown next week.

After missing early chances, France took the lead on the stroke

of halftime when Olivier Giroud headed in winger Mathieu Valbuena’s

freekick from the right.

Valbuena ran the show, scoring a superb second early into the

second half and then setting up Franck Ribery for the third with a

raking long pass.

Midfielder Alexander Kobakhidze pulled one back for Georgia with

20 minutes left.

France is two points ahead of Spain in Group I after the

reigning world and European champion was surprisingly held to a 1-1

home draw by Finland.

”It’s better to play Spain with a two-point lead rather than

being two or three behind. But we shouldn’t get carried away and

start thinking we’ve qualified,” France coach Didier Deschamps

said. ”We’re in the best position at the moment but now we have to

play Spain. They are the best team in the world, even though they

have shown tonight that they can also be pegged back.”

Deschamps started with Karim Benzema alongside Giroud in attack

and handed international debuts to 19-year-old Real Madrid center

half Raphael Varane and 20-year-old Juventus midfielder Paul

Pogba.

”I was not worried about picking them,” Deschamps said.

”People say I don’t have faith in young players. But when the

quality’s there, I trust young players.”

Deschamps reserved special praise for Valbuena and Ribery, who

played off each other intuitively.

”There is a technical understanding between them based on

vivacity and playing the ball to feet,” Deschamps said. ”Over the

last few games they’ve combined really well.”

Ribery went close early on after darting in from the left and

curling a delightful shot which beat goalkeeper Giorgi Loria before

hitting the crossbar, and Varane had a goal-bound header blocked as

France started brightly.

Giroud played in Benzema with a neat pass in the 16th but he

placed a weak curling shot too close to Loria.

Georgia hardly ventured out of its half in the first 30 minutes,

but when it did, France was almost caught out when center half

Aleksander Amisulashvili’s header was saved by `keeper Hugo

Lloris.

Moments later, Giroud held his head in his hands after running

onto Valbuena’s excellent pass over the top, chesting the ball down

expertly but then trying an extravagant lob with the outside of his

foot which sailed over.

Benzema fared worse soon after when he scuffed a shot horribly

wide from 10 meters.

Georgia had no trouble hitting the target and Kobakhidze forced

Lloris into a magnificent tip-over in the 42nd with a stinging

shot.

The notoriously difficult Stade de France crowd mercifully

stayed patient for most of the half, and Giroud rewarded them when

he met Valbuena’s pinpoint freekick with a glancing header into the

bottom corner.

Valbuena went from provider to finisher two minutes after the

break as he completed a flowing move.

Giroud collected a long pass in the left corner and flicked it

to Ribery who then pushed it to Valbuena, lurking on the edge of

the area. The Marseille midfielder controlled it with one touch and

with the next sent the ball spinning into the top right corner.

With Georgia appealing for offside, Benzema went clean through

in the 55th but Loria comfortably saved his attempted curler.

Ribery made the game safe in the 61st when he controlled

Valbuena’s long pass, shrugged off Zurab Khizanishvili and slotted

the ball inside the left post.

”I would like to congratulate France, they really deserved

it,” Georgia coach Temuri Ketsbaia said. ”We were missing three

players through suspension and we had some young players out

there.”

Kobakhidze pulled a goal back in the 70th when he slammed home a

loose ball.

Benzema’s poor performance was compounded when he sent a hopeful

shot 20 meters over the crossbar near the end. The Real Madrid

striker’s France drought totals 11 games and he needs a special

performance against Spain to win the fans over again.

”He was missing that bit of luck, but it’s true that he had a

few chances,” Deschamps said.