PARIS (AFP) – France clinched qualification for the World Cup thanks to goals from Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud in a hard-fought 2-1 win over Belarus on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps s side successfully completed their tricky challenge of beating Bulgaria and Belarus in their final two qualifiers.
The victory meant they avoided the tension of the playoffs that they had to endure to reach the last two finals.
But although they top Group A, Deschamps s team were less than convincing at the Stade de France as already-eliminated Belarus repeatedly penetrated their rearguard.
Deschamps started with Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann and the aerial threat of Giroud, and Griezmann eased nerves in the 27th minute, producing a confident low finish from Blaise Matuidi s smart pass.
Six minutes later, Griezmann intercepted a weak pass out of the Belarus defence and fed Giroud, who shrugged off two defenders to bundle in his 28th international goal.
But the French defensive pairing then went to sleep, allowing Belarus to reduce the gap when the lively Anton Saroka swept past Hugo Lloris a minute before half-time.
Saroka gave France another jolt when he shot just wide in the 64th minute, but he was narrowly offside.
Paris Saint-Germain starlet Kylian Mbappe was introduced in the second half to inject pace and fresh ideas, but with the seconds ticking down to the final whistle, it was Saroka again who slid a shot just wide from close range.