Posted: Fri March 22, 2013 7:08PM; Updated: Fri March 22, 2013 7:07PM

Mathieu Valbuena leads France to 3-1 win over Georgia

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Mathieu Valbuena
Mathieu Valbuena celebrates scoring France's second goal in their 3-1 win over Georgia, a game where he set up the other two goals as well.
Thibault Camus/AP

PARIS (AP) -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.

Coach Didier 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.

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 was left unmarked and his powerful 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 even worse soon after when he scuffed a shot horribly wide from 10 meters after left back Gael Clichy had picked him out.

Georgia had no trouble hitting the target and Kobakhidze forced Lloris into a magnificent tip-over in the 42nd with a stinging shot from the edge of the penalty area.

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 with a stunning strike.

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's defense appealing for offside, Benzema went clean through in the 55th but his shot was easy to read and 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 for his 12th international goal.

Kobakhidze pulled a goal back in the 70th when he slammed home a loose ball after France failed to clear a cross.

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.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SI Videos
Videos from the Web
 
SI.com
Hot Topics: Sammy Watkins NFL Draft Rick Adelman NFL Questions Aaron Hernandez Donald Trump
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint