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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Martial on target as France draws again in World Cup qualifying


France’s winless streak stretched to five games as Les Bleus were held to a 1-1 draw away to Ukraine in their World Cup qualifier in Group D on Saturday.

The world champion fell behind when Mykola Shaparenko found the back of the net after 44 minutes before Anthony Martial restored parity early in the second half.

France still tops the group on nine points from five games after a 1-1 draw against Bosnia on Wednesday and three days before hosting second-placed Finland, which beat Kazakhstan 1-0.

Ukraine is third behind the Finns, who also have five points but have two games in hand. Bosnia and Kazakhstan are both on two points.

“It was much better in the second half, and we have regrets in the first as we conceded the goal just after missing a chance,” said coach Didier Deschamps.

“Playing all these matches in a row is tricky and very demanding, but I’m not looking for excuses.”

Martial, who scored his second international goal and his first since September 2016, said: “It was a tough game for us today, but at least we managed to equalise in a very important game.”

Kingsley Coman deputised in attack for Kylian Mbappe, who left the squad with calf pain, while Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane were on the bench and replaced in the starting lineup by Anthony Martial and Kurt Zouma.

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France got off to a lively start but struggled to find a way past the host’s five-man defence, and it lacked inspiration.

Antoine Griezmann had the first attempt on 27 minutes. But it was Ukraine that had the first clear chance through Andriy Yarmolenko, whose strike forced Hugo Lloris into a superb save in the 35th.

Martial also had an opportunity just before the break, but Shaparenko opened the scoring on the counter-attack with a splendid curled shot into the top corner.

Martial, however, levelled five minutes into the second half from close range after Coman’s cross was deflected by Adrien Rabiot’s header and bounced off a Ukraine defender.

In the 63rd minute, Moussa Diaby replaced Coman and Benzema came on for Martial.

Both substitutes combined nicely in the box with 15 minutes left, but Diaby’s shot hit keeper Andriy Pyatov’s right-hand post.

The visitor, which looked shaky against Ukraine’s quick counterattacks, had another chance in the 85th minute when Rabiot’s fierce, low 25-metre shot was saved by Pyatov.

OTHER RESULTS

Group D: Finland 1, Kazakhstan 0

Group A: Ireland 1, Azerbaijan 1

Group G: Latvia 0, Norway 2

Group A: Serbia 4, Luxembourg 1

Group H: Cyprus 0, Russia 2

Group H: Slovenia 1, Malta 0

Group F: Faroe Islands 0, Denmark 1

Group G: Gibraltar 0, Turkey 3

Group F: Israel 5, Austria 2

Group F: Scotland 1, Moldova 0

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