Kylian Mbappé scored his 40th goal for France on Monday night in a gritty 1-0 win over Greece to maintain their 100 percent record in their qualifying group for next summer’s European championships in Germany.
Greece came to the Stade de France boasting victories over Gibraltar and Republic of Ireland to take them into second place in Group B on six points.
After weathering France’s early onslaught, Gus Poyet’s charges displayed the guile and combativeness so beloved of their coach during his playing days.
They stymied France and offered no threat of their own. Even the ventures into French territory appeared half-hearted.
And yet the hosts remained negligent. Midway through the first-half, Randal Kolo Muani should have hit the target with his header and just before the pause, Jules Koundé tried a cute cushioned volley but the Greece goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos got down well to save his cushioned volley.
Roared on by more than 70,000 partisans, France showed more urgency after the break and were rewarded for their renewed adventure in the 50th minute.
Konstantinos Mavropanos caught Antoine Griezmann in the head with a high boot and the Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz pointed to the penalty spot.
Mbappé took the kick but Vlachodimos saved well to his right. However, the Paris Saint-Germain striker was given another chance after the video assistant referee spotted a Greek player stepping into the penalty area before the kick was taken.
Mbappé exploited the reprieve to thrash home to the left of Vlachodimos.
The goal – on his 70th appearance – took him to within one strike of the former France skipper Michel Platini who scored 41 times in 72 matches between 1976 and 1987.
It also brought Greece to life. A modicum of creativity was added to their containment but the surge ended mid way through the second-half.
Kingsley Coman’s through ball sent Kolo Muani speeding towards the Greece penalty area but just outside the box, Mavropanos hauled him down.
Lahoz brandished a straight red for a professional foul. France failed to capitalise on their extra-man advantage. Griezmann’s free-kick landed just above the bar and in one rapid break, Mbappé and substitute Ousmane Dembélé contrived to botch their chance.
Didier Deschamps’ men also fluffed their lines in a four-on-one counterattack. Hardly the élan expected from some of the most lavishly gifted strikers in the world.
“We did what we had to do to win this match,”
“We didn’t make sure of killing off the game,”
“We have less experience with this group but I’m very happy with what they’ve done.”Said Deschamps who conceded that his side had made themselves vulnerable to a sucker punchc.
In the night’s other tie in Group B, Republic of Ireland beat Gibraltar 3-0 and elsewhere in the competition, England walloped North Macedonia 7-0 to maintain their 100 percent record in Group C. Ukraine are second after a 1-0 win over Malta.
France, who have 12 points from their four fixtures, return to Euro qualifying action in September when they take on Ireland at the Parc des Princes.