PARIS – France striker Olivier Giroud ended a run of 10 international games without a goal by netting a stunning winner as the world champions claimed a deserved 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in their Nations League clash on Sunday.
The night started with a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise as France played their first home fixture since lifting the World Cup in July, and ended with a comfortable victory for the hosts at the Stade de France.
The excellent Kylian Mbappe set France on their way with a first-half opener, but forward Ryan Babel equalised for the visitors with their only meaningful shot on target.
Giroud produced a moment of magic with a superb volley 15 minutes from fulltime to seal the win, as France recorded a fifth successive victory over the Dutch.
“The victory is the most important thing for the party to be really beautiful,” France coach Didier Deschamps told broadcaster M6 after the game.
“I’m very happy for Olivier. It happens that strikers have periods when they are less effective.
“I said before the World Cup, Olivier is often unjustly criticised. We cannot ask him to do what other attackers do, but he is very important to the team. It is when he is not there that we realise his value.”
Deschamps kept the same starting line-up that drew 0-0 with Germany on Thursday, a sign of his desire to cap France’s homecoming with a victory and keep the World Cup after-party in full swing.
Mbappe tested the reflexes of Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen early on, before the lively forward provided a tame finish from Antoine Griezmann’s pass.
The teenager, however, put his side in front after 13 minutes via a mistake from Dutch midfielder Quincy Promes.
His header went straight to Blaise Matuidi, whose cut-back provided a tap-in for a grateful Mbappe.
Griezmann was incisive with his passing and a superb defence-splitting ball was perfect for fullback Lucas Hernandez, who could only sky his shot well wide.
Cillessen then showed impeccable timing to save at the feet of a surging Mbappe just before the break, avoiding the kind of contact that could easily have resulted in a penalty.
After Georginio Wijnaldum had dragged a good opportunity wide, the Netherlands levelled on 66 minutes with their only meaningful shot on target as Babel bundled the ball in off his knee from a Kenny Tete cross following a swift break down the right wing.
It was the former Liverpool forward’s first goal in a competitive international since he netted on debut against Romania in a World Cup qualifier 13 years ago.
Giroud, however, ended his own barren run of games as he muscled ahead of Virgil van Dijk and produced a superb volley from Benjamin Mendy’s cross to take his international goal tally to 32, past the great Zinedine Zidane on France’s all-time scorers list.
“A cross for the striker, you just have to defend that. That has nothing to do with quality, it should not happen,” a frustrated Dutch coach Ronald Koeman told NOS.
“We worked hard and played well. We showed that if we really try to play football, then we can play.
“I think we are on the right track, but we also have to improve some things. Teams such as France will punish our mistakes mercilessly.” (Reuters)