PARIS (Reuters) – France’s efforts to celebrate their qualification for Euro 2020 were almost spoiled by Moldova, with an Olivier Giroud penalty sparing their blushes as they came from behind to win 2-1 and go top of Group H on Thursday.
Turkey’s scoreless draw with Iceland earlier in the evening ensured they and world champions France would qualify from the group, but the Moldovans were intent on spoiling the French party.
The visitors took the lead in the ninth minute when France defender Clement Lenglet followed up a bad defensive header with an even worse one, giving Moldovan striker Vadim Rata the chance to poke the ball home.
France equalised in controversial circumstances in the 35th minute as Giroud contested with Moldova keeper Alexei Cosele for a free kick lifted into the box, forcing Cosele to spill the ball for Raphael Varane to head into an empty net.
The Moldova players protested vehemently that their keeper was fouled by Giroud, but Lithuanian referee Gediminas Mazeika waved away the protests and allowed the goal to stand.
Despite the glittering array of attacking players at their disposal, France struggled to break down the dogged Moldovans, and it took a 79th-minute Giroud penalty for a foul on Lucas Digne to secure the three points.
Elsewhere in the group, Albania had to come from behind to grab a 2-2 draw at home to Andorra.
France, who travel to Albania for their final game, top Group H on 22 points, two ahead of Turkey, who host Andorra to round off their qualifying campaign.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor, editing by Ed Osmond)