Olivier Giroud fired world champions France to a 1-0 victory in Reykjavik as Iceland lost a home qualifier for the first time in six years.
On the fringes of things at Chelsea, Giroud remains an integral part of France’s plans eight months out from Euro 2020, and his 37th goal for his country came from the penalty spot midway through the second half.
It came after Antoine Griezmann went over in the area, and amid Icelandic protests about the decision by Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi.
But France were the better team for long stretches of the game, worthy of becoming the first visitors to leave Iceland with three points since Slovenia earned a 4-2 win in World Cup qualifying in June 2013.
France beat Iceland 4-0 in Paris earlier in the group but their preparation this time was disrupted by losing N’Golo Kante to injury moments before kick-off, with Moussa Sissoko taking his midfield berth.
France were already without three star men in Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and captain Hugo Lloris. Raphael Varane skippered the team and Steve Mandanda took over from Lloris in goal, as Les Bleus looked to avoid another away-day blip, having lost to Turkey in June.
They kept Hannes Halldorsson in Iceland’s goal busy enough before the break, with Benjamin Pavard, Griezmann and Kingsley Coman threatening, but France hit their stride in the second half.
Halldorsson repelled a Griezmann free-kick, before France’s Barcelona forward made a hash of a volley. Griezmann thumped another shot wide from 20 yards, searching for a goal that would have taken him to 30 for his country, putting him level in sixth place on the all-time list alongside Just Fontaine and Jean-Pierre Papin.
The penalty award came in the 64th minute when Griezmann went down theatrically after colliding with Ari Skulason.
With Griezmann receiving a little TLC off the pitch, it was Giroud who took the spot-kick, firing home to find the bottom-right corner.
It was little surprise Griezmann was able to carry on, and he threatened shortly after with a raking shot that Halldorsson gathered.
Blaise Matuidi hit the post from 10 yards with a scuffed left-footed strike, before almost knocking out defender Victor Palsson with a thumping volley and Halldorsson saved with his legs from substitute Wissam Ben Yedder late on as France stayed unbeaten against Iceland, their record now showing 11 wins and four draws against Friday night’s hosts.
What does it mean? France can win without the big guns
For a while it was ugly, but France had been disrupted by the Kante injury just before the game began so that was a plausible excuse. They began to find their stride, and with Griezmann a constant pest, Coman busy on the right flank, and Mandanda a confident deputy for Lloris, this was a steady if unspectacular showing from Didier Deschamps’ side.
Griezmann made no new friends
There was certainly contact for the penalty, but surely not of the sort that should have left Griezmann writhing in apparent agony on the pitch. It was hard not to think there was some artifice behind his behaviour. Given the brush with the defender had been perhaps hard for the referee to spot given his view, perhaps it was an act he felt necessary to secure what was ultimately justice.
No Pogba, no panache
France missed the Manchester United playmaker, demonstrating little midfield creativity beyond Coman’s frequent raids down the right flank. They will have to cope without him against Turkey on Monday too, but the former Juventus man could be back for November’s double-header against Moldova and Albania.
France will seek to show they can handle Turkey, after the poor loss in Konya four months ago, when the teams meet at the Stade de France on Monday. Iceland will have home advantage again on the same day, welcoming Andorra to Reykjavik.
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