Anthony Martial scored a rare international goal on Saturday but World Cup holders France stumbled again on their road to the 2022 finals in Qatar, drawing 1-1 with Ukraine in Kiev.
Manchester United forward Martial forced in the equaliser five minutes into the second half to cancel out a superb strike by Mykola Shaparenko for Ukraine, the Euro 2020 quarter-finalists.
It was just Martial’s second goal for his country on the occasion of his 29th cap, with his only previous strike coming in a friendly against Italy in September 2016.
He has not scored for his club since February after a knee injury saw him miss the closing weeks of last season and led to him missing out on a place in France’s squad at Euro 2020.
«It is a long time since I scored a goal so this will do me a lot of good,» the 25-year-old told broadcaster M6.
France have now dropped points in successive games on their return to action following their exit from the European Championship in the last 16 on penalties against Switzerland.
Les Bleus were held at home by Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday but remain four points clear of Finland and Ukraine at the top of qualifying Group D.
This was their toughest fixture on paper and it would be an enormous surprise if they did not still go on to win the group despite their recent struggles.
«It’s not easy having to play all these games in a row, but that is not an excuse,» said coach Didier Deschamps.
«We are maybe not in a better situation than we were before the match, but it is not any worse either.»
Only the group winners qualfy automatically for Qatar. Ukraine have drawn all five matches so far, while Finland beat Kazakhstan 1-0 in Helsinki and have two games in hand on their rivals.
France host Finland on Tuesday looking for an improvement on their recent performances, although their display at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium was a step in the right direction.
Martial was preferred to Karim Benzema up front while Kylian Mbappe was not involved after returning to his club Paris Saint-Germain with a calf injury.
Deschamps made six changes to his line-up in all, including handing starts to West Ham United’s Kurt Zouma in defence, to Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni in midfield and to Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman on the wing.
– Stunning goal –
Martial should have put France ahead just before half-time but was denied by Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov when clean through, and moments later the home side took the lead in style.
Roman Yaremchuk’s cross from the right was intercepted by Zouma but the ball came out to Shaparenko and the Dynamo Kiev midfielder found the top-right corner of the net with a stunning first-time strike from 20 metres that left Hugo Lloris rooted.
Ukraine lost to England in the quarter-finals at the Euro and have since replaced Andriy Shevchenko with an acting coach in Oleksandr Petrakov, who was looking for his first win.
However the away side drew level in the 50th minute when Adrien Rabiot nodded down Coman’s cross for Martial to score, the ball crossing the line despite Pyatov’s attempts to clear.
Deschamps sent on Benzema and Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby in the 64th minute in place of Martial and Coman, and the substitutes combined to almost bring about a winner.
Benzema controlled the ball in the box and produced a superb prodded pass into the path of Diaby, but the 22-year-old’s shot hit the post.