Goal-shy France under pressure to beat Georgia

France are under pressure to secure a win in their World Cup qualifier against Georgia on Friday night. The fixture would normally be straightforward for Les Bleus but their troubles scoring goals means it could be a tricky night in Tbilisi.

Goal-shy France under pressure to beat Georgia
Les Blues coach Didier Deschamps faces the media ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifier against Georgia. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Shot-shy France need to find a cure to their goalscoring ills when they face Georgia in a tricky World Cup qualifying fixture in Tbilisi on Friday evening.

Didier Deschamps's side come into this month's qualifying double-header in Georgia and Belarus in second place in Group I, a point behind leaders Spain and four points clear of Finland in third.

Finishing above the reigning European and world champions may be beyond Les Bleus, but they should still be strong enough to claim second place and a spot in November's two-legged play-offs.

Nevertheless, to win in Georgia — where Spain toiled to a 1-0 win earlier in the campaign — and go on to reach next year's finals in Brazil, France must sort out their problems in front of goal.

Following last month's 0-0 friendly draw in Belgium, France have now gone six hours without scoring since their 3-1 win against the Georgians at the Stade de France in March.

It is largely because of their struggles in front of goal that Deschamps's side have lost four of their six matches in 2013 and the focal point of criticism amongst fans and the media has been Karim Benzema.

The Real Madrid striker is supposed to be the national team's star man, and yet he has not scored in 19 and a quarter hours on the field at international level since bagging a brace in a friendly against Estonia ahead of Euro 2012.

"Karim keeps being mentioned because of his lack of goals for us. I hope he puts an end to that as soon as possible," bemoaned Deschamps before the squad departed on Wednesday for Tbilisi, where the game will be played at 2215 local time (1815 GMT) to fit in with peak television viewing times in France.

Benzema has no shortage of support from his colleagues, with Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny saying: "His qualities can't have disappeared overnight. He just needs that trigger to regain his confidence. The team is right behind him."

But while France boast the 2012-13 European player of the season in their ranks in Franck Ribery, as well as Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena, who excelled in the home win against Georgia, Deschamps must decide who to play in front of his chief creators.

He has options beyond simply sticking with Benzema at the head of a 4-2-3-1, with one being to pair the 25-year-old with Arsenal's Olivier Giroud, scorer of the winning goal in last weekend's north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur.

Another option is for Deschamps to hand a start to Andre-Pierre Gignac, the burly Marseille striker who was handed his first call-up since the 2010 World Cup after scoring three goals in the first three games of the Ligue 1 season.

"The coach must make choices. We are lucky to have quality strikers and that should give us strength rather than be a problem," insisted Arsenal full-back Bacary Sagna.

"Giroud is as much at ease at his club as he is with France. But we point the finger at Karim because he is a centre-forward and that is unfair. The rest of us players need to give him more support."

Elsewhere, with Tottenham's Etienne Capoue and Lyon's Clement Grenier having pulled out due to injury, it seems likely that Josuha Guilavogui and Geoffrey Kondogbia will play together in central midfield.

Kondogbia won his first cap against Belgium last month before joining Monaco from Sevilla for 20 million euros ($26.8 million), while Guilavogui last weekend left Saint-Etienne for Atletico Madrid.

Temuri Ketsbaia's Georgia side have collected just four points from five games and have scored just three goals in that run.

   Group I

Spain                5 3 2 0  8  2 11

France               5 3 1 1  8  4 10

Finland              5 1 3 1  4  4  6

Georgia              5 1 1 3  3  7  4

Belarus              6 1 1 4  4 10  4

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France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

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