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World Cup qualifier: Finland 0 France 1

7 September 2012 22:43

France made a winning but unconvincing start to their World Cup 2014 qualification campaign, defeating Finland 1-0 in Helsinki.

In a group with defending champions Spain, Didier Deschamps' men could not afford to drop points in their opening fixture and won the game thanks to a well-taken strike from midfielder Abou Diaby midway through the first half.

France, who started as strong favourites to win the encounter, quickly assumed the role of dominant side, yet they were unable to fashion an opening against a Finnish defence that looked solid and resolute.

Indeed, it was the home side who created the first big opening of the match, but after springing the offside trap convincingly. Kasper Hamalainen dallied just long enough over his shot to allow Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to execute a fine recovery challenge, with the home fans crying for a penalty.

When les Bleus created their first opening, they were more clinical. Karim Benzema weaved past three players having dropped into a surprisingly deep position, but Diaby made up great ground to break beyond the striker, latch onto an inch-perfect pass and then steer a shot across Niki Maenpaa and into the net.

Though controlling the match, France didn't threaten to cut loose until after the break, when they forced Maenpaa into two fine saves in quick succession. First, Yohan Cabaye tried his luck with a swerving shot from the edge of the box only for the goalkeeper to claw it clear, and from the resulting corner a Yanga-Mbiwa header had the custodian at full stretch to grasp the ball.

Still very much in the game with 30 minutes remaining, the hosts seemed to gain belief that they could unsettle the young duo at the heart of the France defence. Teemu Pukki was the recipient of the hosts' best chance, but when neat work down the right presented him with virtually an open goal 12-yards out, Anthony Reveillere saved the day for the visitors by clipping the ball off his toes.

Although France rarely looked in serious trouble, some sloppy marking from a corner late on presented Tim Sparv with a free header, but his effort was saved by Hugo Lloris and the danger was scrambled away.

While victory was imperative for France, the performance as a whole lacked assurance, and Deschamps has a great deal of work to do if his side are to trouble Spain in Group I.

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