A Kylian Mbappe penalty gave France a 1-0 victory over 10-man Greece on Monday that maintained their perfect record in qualifying for Euro 2024.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar, and France captain, had his initial kick saved early in the second half but was allowed a second attempt because of encroachment into the area by a Greek defender.
He made no mistake second time around and France could have gone on to win by a greater margin after Greece defender Konstantinos Mavropanos was sent off for barging Randal Kolo Muani to the ground, denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
France’s win in their last outing this season follows their 3-0 defeat of minnows Gibraltar last Friday and leaves them clear on top of qualifying Group B with 12 points from four games.
They have not conceded a goal so far and are six points clear of Greece, albeit having played a game more.
“It has been a very long season for the players. They have been waiting for their holidays but we did what we needed to do to win the match,” coach Didier Deschamps told broadcaster TF1.
“This is a team with less experience than six months ago, but there is plenty of quality.”
Having already opened their campaign with wins against the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland in March, last year’s World Cup runners-up appear certainties to qualify for next year’s finals in Germany.
Their next match is against Ireland in September, by which time it will be clear where Mbappe will be playing his club football next season.
The 24-year-old, who took over as skipper of Les Bleus when Hugo Lloris quit international football following the World Cup, last week confirmed he would not extend his contract at PSG, which expires next year.
That has raised the prospect of the Qatar-backed club selling him in this transfer window, even if he has said he intends to stay with the French champions next season.
Mbappe put the talk of his future to one side to score a penalty against Gibraltar and he was the matchwinner here in what was not a vintage French display.
– Griezmann’s bloodied head –
He had been frustrated in the first half before a sell-out Stade de France crowd as Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz dismissed his appeals for a penalty when he went down under a George Baldock challenge.
Kolo Muani and Jules Kounde both came close for the hosts in the first half, with the latter seeing his shot saved by goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos just before the interval.
France got the chance to go in front when Mavropanos caught Antoine Griezmann in the head with a high boot four minutes after the restart.
A spot-kick was awarded and VfB Stuttgart stopper Mavropanos was booked with Griezmann needing his bloodied head bandaged.
Vlachodimos saved Mbappe’s penalty the first time but he could not repeat his heroics when a retake was ordered, despite diving the right way.
It was Mbappe’s 13th goal in 13 games for France this season, to go with 41 in all competitions for PSG.
He now has 40 goals in 70 games for his country and needs just one more goal to equal Michel Platini’s tally in a France shirt.
Greece, the 2004 European champions, have been enjoying something of a revival under their Uruguayan coach Gustavo Poyet, but their chances of claiming anything from this game died when Mavropanos was dismissed in the 69th minute.
Kolo Muani was sent through on goal by a Kingsley Coman pass only to be bundled over by Mavropanos. Already on a yellow card, this time the defender saw a straight red.
However, France could not add to their lead with the extra man, with substitute Ousmane Dembele just unable to get on the end of Mbappe’s low centre.
“This is the hardest match we have had to play since I came here,” admitted Poyet, who became Greece coach in February last year.
“The difference between France and us is incredible. I don’t like to lose but we learned a lot today.”