Kylian Mbappe missed a second-half penalty but a much-changed France still coasted to a 2-0 win away to Kazakhstan in World Cup qualifying.
Les Bleus were punished for wasteful finishing in their opening Group D game against Ukraine on Thursday, allowing their opponents – who failed to manage a shot on target – to grab a 1-1 draw through Presnel Kimpembe’s own goal.
However, there was to be no repeat on Sunday as the reigning champions registered a first win in Group D at the second attempt.
Ousmane Dembele gave the visitors a 19th-minute lead in Astana, accepting a pass from Anthony Martial before firing a low shot across goalkeeper Alexandr Mokin for a rare international goal.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 28, 2021
Kazakhstan defended in stoic fashion for the remainder of the first half until unfortunately falling further behind just before the interval, France doubling their advantage thanks to an own goal.
Having impressively denied Martial from scoring with a superb last-gasp clearance, poor Sergiy Maliy – preoccupied with marking Paul Pogba – then headed the resulting corner into his net.
Antoine Griezmann – who, along with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, retained his place in the starting XI – had a goal ruled out for offside early in a second half that saw Martial forced off with an apparent injury sustained while playing on a synthetic surface.
Replacement Mbappe offered a far greater threat during a cameo appearance off the bench, including drawing a foul from the combination of Nuraly Alip and Temirlan Erlanov inside the area.
However, the Paris Saint-Germain forward was unable to capitalise on the opportunity from 12 yards out, Mokin guessing correctly as he dived to his left to turn away the spot-kick attempt.
What does it mean? Job done, despite laboured display
There may have been a concern that France were in danger of history being repeated when they struggled to build on Dembele’s opener, despite controlling proceedings. They coasted in the second half too, yet still ended up having 15 shots – nine of which were on target.
Still, qualifying is about results, rather than performances. Considering the long journey and the artificial pitch, collecting three points was all that mattered.
Dembele shows Deschamps what he can do
Ahead of the trio of international fixtures in March, Deschamps had challenged the recalled Dembele to be a more consistent contributor, both for club and country.
The Barcelona forward certainly made a difference against Kazakhstan, moving into double figures for goals in the 2020-21 season when opening the scoring with a crisp finish.
Missed opportunity for Martial
Martial looked certain to grab just his second international goal from Thomas Lemar’s chipped cross, yet Maliy stretched out a leg to somehow send the ball over the crossbar.
Instead of being able to celebrate scoring, he finished the game with concerns over his fitness. In 59 minutes, Martial completed 78.3 per cent of his attempted passes and had three shots, two of which were on target. There was also the assist for Dembele too, yet Mbappe was far more prominent following his introduction.
Both teams are back in qualifying action on Wednesday. France have a trip to Sarajevo to take on Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Kazakhstan head on the road as they travel to Ukraine