PARIS, France September 12 – France took control of their 2014 World Cup qualifying group by overcoming a second-half wobble to beat former betes noires Belarus 3-1 at Stade de France on Tuesday.
Etienne Capoue and Christophe Jallet set the hosts on their way in the second half with their first international goals, before Franck Ribery secured victory after Belarus had threatened to come back into the game.
Belarus stunned France 1-0 two years ago in Laurent Blanc’s first home game in charge, but Blanc’s successor, Didier Deschamps, avoided a similar fate on his return to the national stadium at the helm of Les Bleus.
Victory gave France six points from their first two fixtures — an ideal start ahead of their next game against world and European champions Spain in Madrid next month, when Group I supremacy will be at stake.
“It wasn’t easy today, even though we deserved to be in front at half-time,” Deschamps told TF1 television.
“Paradoxically, it was just after they had two good chances that we scored. It’s not easy to win games at this level.
“We have our six points, so the objective has been achieved. After that, we’ll think about what awaits us in a month.”
Deschamps had called for his players to put more crosses into the penalty area and his instructions clearly found their mark, as France took to the flanks from the start in front of a disappointing crowd of around 50,000.
Ribery looked eager to follow his coach’s advice, with a first-time centre in the 17th minute setting up Olivier Giroud for a downward header that drew a fine, one-handed save from Sergei Veremko.
Belarus goalkeeper Veremko also twice thwarted Mamadou Sakho from corners, although the Paris Saint-Germain centre-back miscued his second attempt in the 38th minute when he met Yohan Cabaye’s delivery unmarked.
Karim Benzema started alongside Giroud and Ribery in a lopsided front three, with Arsenal new boy Giroud providing a central pivot around which his two fellow forwards revolved in menacing fashion.
France looked in control but they had a narrow escape early in the second half when Hugo Lloris had to rush out to deny Stanislav Dragun after a clever pass down the inside-left channel from Sergei Kislyak.
The hosts did not need another warning and with their next attack they took the lead, Toulouse midfielder Capoue sweeping home Ribery’s pass from the right to claim his first goal for his country on only his second appearance.
Belarus continued to probe, but a hugely fortuitous goal in the 68th minute allowed the hosts to double their lead.
Jallet shaped to cross from wide on the right flank but inadvertently sliced the ball, which sent it flying past Veremko and into the net via the underside of the bar.
The PSG full-back’s wry grin told its own story but there were no smiles in the home defence four minutes later when Belarus were allowed to pull a goal back.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was adjudged to have tripped Anton Putilo and when substitute Sergei Kornilenko’s penalty was pushed out by Lloris, Putilo followed in to squeeze the rebound home.
It was the first goal that France had conceded in three games under Deschamps, but Ribery’s strike made sure it was the only major point of concern.
Freed by Benzema in the 80th minute, the Bayern Munich winger coolly lifted the ball over the advancing Veremko to give France a first win over Belarus at the third attempt.
“In these kind of matches, certain moments can change everything,” said visiting coach Georgi Kondratiev.
“Against such a team, and particularly away from home, it was too difficult a match for us.”