France booked their place in the World Cup play-offs with a convincing win over the Faroe Islands tonight which will ease some of the pressure on under-fire coach Raymond Domenech.
Andre-Pierre Gignac, who had scored his first goal for France against the
Faroes in the 1-0 victory last year, set Les Bleus on their way with two
first-half goals - and William Gallas extended their lead shortly after the
Late goals from Nicolas Anelka and substitute Karim Benzema put the icing on the cake. France cannot now be beaten to second spot in Group Seven, although they also
cannot achieve automatic qualification following Serbia's 5-0 thrashing of Romania.
The emphatic result will do a lot to improve the mood in the France camp which has reached breaking point of late following reports last month of a bust-up between Domenech and his players. Benzema's goal will also do much to boost his reputation following his surprise
admission that he had not really felt like playing against Serbia and had struggled to give his all.
Les Bleus dominated throughout, and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda was simply a spectator. France knew three points would be enough to book a place in the play-offs - and they almost got off to the best possible start as Jakup Mikkelsen was forced into a fingertip save to keep out Anelka's rasping shot from just outside the area.
Les Bleus were laying siege to the Faroe Islands' half but without carving out
any real opportunities, although Anelka came close to giving them the lead in
the 10th minute when he sent a free-kick straight into Mikkelsen's hands.
They should have had a penalty in the 19th minute when Gignac's shot struck Atli Gregersen's elbow, but the referee waved away their appeals. Gignac opened the scoring shortly after the half-hour mark when he latched on to Anelka's cross and, swivelling on the spot, lashed a rasping shot into the bottom right corner.
The Toulouse striker doubled his and his team's tally five minutes later with a
powerful effort from 12 yards, although France should have already been two
goals up because Gallas had headed woefully over the bar shortly beforehand from
France came out after the break keen to make their domination tell - and they extended their advantage seven minutes after the restart following a craftily worked corner between Anelka and Thierry Henry. The Barcelona striker wafted the ball in towards the far post, where Gallas was waiting to head home.
Gignac came close to notching a hat-trick on the hour mark when he latched on
to Bacary Sagna's long ball and beat two defenders before unleashing a wicked
shot from close range - which Mikkelsen did well to keep out.
Benzema came on for Gignac in the 73rd minute, and the 23-year-old went off to resounding applause from the home crowd. The Real Madrid forward clearly had a point to prove after his controversial comments and he swiftly proved that tonight he was giving his all.
Benzema capped his impressive performance by making one goal and scoring another. He set up Henry perfectly in the 86th minute - and although Mikkelsen was able to parry the Barcelona striker's effort, the rebound fell for Anelka to slot it home. Benzema notched France's fifth three minutes later when he picked up Lassana Diarra's pass and beat three opponents before firing past Mikkelsen.
"You couldn't ask for much more," France coach Raymond Domenech told reporters after a convincing performance from the former world and European champions. "The team showed that it deserved to be supported," Domenech added. "There is quality in that team and we will need to confirm that in a month. It's never easy to qualify and whatever opponents we face the playoff will be tough but this team is growing and showing it has style."