France bury an old ghost

They exact revenge on Bulgaria, who denied them a spot at the 1994 World Cup

Two-goal hero Kevin Gameiro (left) celebrating his feat with strike partner Antoine Griezmann as France swept to a 4-1 win over Bulgaria.
Two-goal hero Kevin Gameiro (left) celebrating his feat with strike partner Antoine Griezmann as France swept to a 4-1 win over Bulgaria.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • France put memories of one of the most painful moments in their football history to one side by crushing Bulgaria 4-1 at the Stade de France in a World Cup qualifier on Friday.

Les Bleus had not hosted Bulgaria since their infamous encounter in November 1993, when they conceded a late goal to lose 2-1. That defeat meant they missed out on a place at the 1994 World Cup Finals in the United States.

The home side trailed again - as they did at the Parc de Princes 23 years ago - on Friday after conceding an early penalty, but this time they had plenty of time to bounce back, by taking control of the midfield and breaching a porous defence almost at will.

Goals from Kevin Gameiro, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann put them 3-1 up at the break.

Atletico Madrid striker Gameiro, stylishly celebrating his first international match for five years, then completed the scoring with his second goal of the night in the 59th minute.

It was France's first win in Group A and thus set them up nicely for tomorrow's trip to the Netherlands, who were 4-1 winners at home to Belarus on Friday.

"It was a perfect evening. We reacted well and then ran away with it," said Gameiro, back in favour with the national squad at age 29.

"I felt enormously proud and especially full of desire. Hard work pays off."

Coach Didier Deschamps said: "He was there to score goals and he scored two. He was very good with his movement, he worked very hard for the team, along with Antoine."

The fact that Gameiro and Griezmann combined excellently throughout was one of the keys to France's convincing victory.

"We both played our game and it worked out well," Gameiro said. "Let's hope it will last."

Gameiro started as Deschamps made five changes to the side that could only draw 0-0 in Belarus in their opening qualifier a month ago.

Indeed Bulgaria topped the group coming into this encounter, thanks to a 4-3 win against Luxembourg last month.

This was their first game under new coach Petar Hubchev and the Stade de France was silenced as they went in front in the sixth minute. Georgi Milanov was fouled in the area by Bacary Sagna and Mihail Aleksandrov stepped up to net the resulting penalty.

Yet this Bulgaria team had let in 14 goals in their previous three matches and France's formidable firepower proved too much.

France, with four points from two games, are joint top of the group alongside the Netherlands and Sweden.

Bulgaria, trying to qualify for the finals of a major event for the first time since the 2004 European Championship, occupy fourth position on three points. They play Sweden away tomorrow.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'France bury an old ghost'. Print Edition | Subscribe