France started the final round of qualifiers three points behind Spain and needing both results to go their way as well as a swing in goal difference if they were to claim the automatic spot. The hosts signalled their attacking intentions from the outset, Laurent Koscielny and Paul Pogba both having efforts before France went ahead in the eighth minute with a stunning strike from Ribery. The Bayern Munich winger unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top right-hand corner of the goal from 25 yards giving Finland goalkeeper Niki Maenpaa no chance at all. Perparim Hetemaj shot wide for the visitors but Olivier Giroud headed over and Mathieu Debuchy fired wide while Maenpaa did well to parry Mathieu Valbuena’s header as France attacked. However, Finland weathered the storm and almost equalised when Kasper Hamalainen’s shot from the centre of the area was only saved by the feet of France keeper Hugo Lloris. The visitors then forced a corner which was taken by Roman Eremenko and although Debuchy cleared, Alexander Ring pounced to fire a superb right-footed volley narrowly over the bar from 20 yards. ROAD LESS TAKEN Check out all the best action shots from FIFA’s World Cup qualifying. Valbuena curled a shot over the bar and shortly after was denied by Maenpaa after he had been found by Ribery. France came within inches of doubling their lead in first-half injury time when Samir Nasri’s 25-yard effort hit the post which proved to be the last meaningful action before the interval. Debuchy’s volley was parried by Maenpaa minutes after the re-start before the Newcastle defender’s long-range effort was comfortably gathered by the goalkeeper. Roman Eremenko’s shot was easily saved by Lloris with both teams firing in from distance. The game had fallen a little flat and with Spain getting a second goal over Georgia, there was little France could realistically do to affect their situation. Giroud fired over from distance before Valbuena’s corner found Koscielny at the far post only for the Arsenal defender to head over the bar. However, France did get a deserved second goal 13 minutes from full-time when Giroud’s header was turned into his own goal by Toivio, the defender sending the ball high into the centre of the goal.
Didier Deschamps’ men headed into the game three points adrift of Group I leaders Spain, and knew that victory would likely not be enough to see them qualify automatically. Franck Ribery gave France the lead with a superb finish from distance after just eight minutes, before Joona Toivio’s own goal and Karim Benzema’s late strike ensured triumph. France dictated for the majority of the game in what was a strong performance, but their efforts proved in vain as Spain’s 2-0 win over Georgia ensured that the world and European champions topped the group. Deschamps made just two changes from the side that side that hammered Australia 6-0 on Friday as Blaise Matuidi and Mathieu Valbuena replaced Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy. The hosts made a quick start to proceedings, Paul Pogba firing wide as Deschamps’ men looked to seize the advantage early. And it did not take them long to find the opener as Ribery cut inside on to his right foot before firing a magnificent long-range effort in off the bar, leaving Niki Maenpaa helpless. France showed great attacking intent in the first half, and only the reflexes of Maenpaa prevented them from doubling their lead as he saved well to keep out Valbuena’s header. Finland were a danger on the counter, though, and France had captain Hugo Lloris to thank for preserving their lead, the Tottenham goalkeeper producing a fine stop from midfielder Kaspar Hamalainen one-on-one. The visitors looked to gain confidence from that near miss, and they almost took the lead in spectacular fashion as Alexander Ring’s improvised volley dipped just over the bar. Still, Maenpaa was the busier of the two keepers, and demonstrated more wonderful reflexes to repel Olivier Giroud’s point-blank strike after the Arsenal forward had latched on to Ribery’s pull back. France were almost made to pay for their profligacy early in the second half as Teemu Pukki shot wide following good link-up play with Hamalainen. Deschamps’ side found plenty of space in the Finland defence, however they were once again thwarted by Maenpaa, who performed further heroics to parry Mathieu Debuchy’s fierce drive.
France, Portugal among eight nations set for UEFA World Cup qualifying playoffs
France beat Finland 3-0 in its last Group game, but Spain’s win over Georgia ensured Les Bleus were consigned to second, while Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammates finished a point behind Fabio Capello’s Russia in Group F. The one UEFA group runner-up that will miss out on a playoff spot due to its worst record against the first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-placed sides is Denmark due to there only being eight spots up for grabs. Group B’s race for second between four teams – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Armenia and the Danes – went down to the wire, and the way the countries took points off each other worked against them in the end. Sweden was the only team heading into the final round of matches to be guaranteed to be in the playoffs, with Germany a distant Group C winner, no teams challenging for second place and the bottom-placed team already decided. The second team to know its playoff fate was Greece, as Bosnia and Herzegovina won to deny the Euro 2004 winner automatic entry to the World Cup. Croatia already bagged second place in Group A and was able to avoid missing out on the playoffs despite losing 2-0 to Scotland in its final game on Tuesday. Iceland, which has never reached a major international tournament in its footballing history, will be delighted to have a crack at World Cup 2014 qualification after Slovenia was defeated 1-0 by Group E winners Switzerland, meaning the Scandinavians’ 1-1 draw with Norway was enough to finish second. Turkey’s 2-0 defeat to Netherlands ensured that Romania finished ahead of its Group D runner-up challengers, and Fatih Terim’s men slipped from second to fourth, with Hungary hopping into third with its 2-0 win over Andorra. The final spot on Tuesday went to Ukraine, which hammered San Marino 8-0 but was pipped to first place in Group H by England. The draw for the two-legged ties will take place Oct. 21 in Zurich. The seeded sides are Croatia, Portugal, Greece and Ukraine, with France, Sweden, Romania and Iceland set to be the unseeded four sides. Sports & Recreation