Defending champion France scraped a 1-0 win at Bosnia-Herzegovina to move four points clear in World Cup qualifying, after Ukraine drew 1-1 at home to Kazakhstan in the other Group D game on Wednesday.
Forward Antoine Griezmann’s smart header on the hour mark settled a tight match, putting the French in command of the group despite not playing well in any of its three games. Ukraine is second with three points from as many games as it tries to qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar.
France had a short turnaround so Bosnia-Herzegovina clearly looked the fresher side in Sarajevo, having not played last weekend while Les Bleus were winning 2-0 in Kazakhstan.
Kylian Mbappe had a goal ruled out for offside in the third minute, but overall the Paris Saint-Germain striker made little impression in another disappointing performance that contrasted with his strong club form.
Led by Barcelona midfielder Miralem Pjanic, the hosts improved as France labored and had veteran goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to thank for going in level at the break.
Midway through the first half, the Tottenham No. 1 kept out right back Darko Todorovic’s stinging shot, having made an even better save to block a downward header from a corner.
The result is the most important thing, obviously in terms of how we played we can do better, France coach Didier Deschamps said. We didnt play as we should have done in the first half, and Hugo made a great save.
With France struggling to create anything, Deschamps brought on center forward Olivier Giroud in the 58th to partner Griezmann in attack and unsettle the home defense.
Two minutes later, Griezmann found space near the front post to head in Adrien Rabiot’s whipped cross from the left for his 35th international goal.
It moved Griezmann one clear of David Trezeguet and into fourth place on France’s scoring list behind Michel Platini (41), Giroud (44) and Thierry Henry (51), and underlined his return to form in a difficult season with Barcelona.
UKRAINE HELD AGAIN
Three games, three draws for Ukraine.
Striker Roman Yaremchuk, who has been scoring regularly for Belgian side Gent this season, put Ukraine ahead in Kiev after 20 minutes.
It was Yaremchuk’s seventh goal for the national team and first since netting against Germany last November in a Nations League match.
But midfielder Serikzhan Muzhikov equalized in the 59th for Kazakhstan, which is in last place with one point from two games.