World champions France kicked off their Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Ukraine at the Stade de France.
Les Bleus, winners of the previous World Cup three years ago, had looked as though they might make light work of Wednesday’s visitors when Antoine Griezmann scored in stunning fashion less than halfway through the first period.
But Ukraine regrouped at the interval and equalised through a fortuitous Presnel Kimpembe own goal before protecting a precious first point.
It was a far cry from their 7-1 friendly defeat to Didier Deschamps’ men when the sides last met in October, even if the first half hinted at a similarly one-sided affair.
France were on the front foot from the outset and might have led before their 19th-minute opener as Olivier Giroud’s first-time finish was deflected agonisingly off target by Mykola Matvyenko.
There was no stopping Griezmann’s stunning effort, though, curling inside the far post from the right corner of the penalty area.
The hosts had opportunities to add to their advantage heading into half-time, too, but Kylian Mbappe and Giroud each sent efforts over – the latter from a brilliant Benjamin Pavard cross – either side of a Kingsley Coman penalty appeal that saw Georgi Bushchan escape censure.
A huge slice of misfortune then saw France punished 12 minutes after the restart when Serhiy Sydorchuk’s wayward shot earned a huge deflection off Kimpembe and crept into the net.
Les Bleus reclaimed complete control over the remaining minutes but could not forge a second goal or even a chance of note in an underwhelming start to their world title defence.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 24, 2021
What does it mean? Les Bleus look stale
This is a very familiar France team. Eight of Deschamps’ XI started the World Cup final in Moscow, while Paul Pogba, a ninth, was introduced from the bench.
But this consistency in selection has not been able to encourage a consistency in performance with a few too many slip-ups from a side of this quality.
They have now won just one of their past four home games since the previous demolition of Ukraine, losing to Finland in that time, and have also been held by Iceland and Turkey since Russia 2018.
Kimpembe was one of the three players who did not start in Moscow, replacing Samuel Umtiti from that team, and he did not cover himself in glory.
The defender had committed two errors leading to goals for Paris Saint-Germain this season and looked far from certain after his attempted block went wrong and gifted Ukraine their leveller, although he won five of his eight duels.
A late header directed straight at Bushchan saw Kimpembe pass up the chance to make amends.
Griezmann making ground
It proved the only high point of a disappointing outing, but Griezmann’s excellent opener took him to 34 France goals, tied for fourth with David Trezeguet.
In his 87th cap, the Barcelona forward created four chances, more than any other player, but it was not enough for victory.
France go to Kazakhstan on Sunday, while Ukraine’s campaign continues at home to Finland on the same day.