France defeat Wales 2-0 in friendly; Italy may miss World Cup

Italy is at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing to Sweden 1-0.
FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia Source: AP
Reported by: AP New Delhi November 11, 2017 14:11 IST

Strike partners Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud scored as France began its World Cup warmup program with a comfortable 2-0 home win against Wales in a friendly on Friday.

Both have struggled for their clubs, with Griezmann lacking goals for Atletico Madrid and Giroud hardly managing to get a game for Arsenal.

But in the continued absence of Karim Benzema for France, they still work very well in tandem for Les Bleus. They have been coach Didier Deschamps' front two since last year's European Championship and are odds-on to continue at the World Cup in Russia next year.

France qualified top of its qualifying group while Wales failed to make the playoffs. France is away to Germany on Tuesday.
Griezmann showed balance and athleticism to volley in the opening goal in the 18th minute, his 19th for France — and Giroud's composure under pressure allowed him to pick his spot in the 71st for his 29th international goal.

"We did what we had to do," Deschamps said. "We created problems for them throughout. Germany is better than Wales, although this Wales side does not lose often."

Giroud is doubtful for Germany after facing the Welsh with a minor injury to his right thigh.

"It's going to be difficult," he said. "I strapped it up and took one or two anti-inflammatories that enabled me to play. Luckily, because I don't like to pull out."

Griezmann's goal will give him confidence after only two league goals for Atletico Madrid this season.

He held his run just late enough to latch onto Corentin Tolisso's pass over the top of the defence and volleyed past goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, although Hennessey should have done better as he got both hands to it.

"The pass made all the difference," Griezmann said. "I know what he (Tolisso) is capable of and it was perfect."

Giroud collected a pass from the irrepressible Kylian Mbappe and took one touch to stand up his marker and then fooled him by clipping a shot inside the post, with the deflection off defender James Chester making it even harder for Hennessey.

"Aside from my personal satisfaction, it's great that we won tonight," Giroud said. "We had a lot of chances and we managed to kill the game off. We did a lot of good things out there."

Soon after, center half Samuel Umtiti struck the top of the post with a fierce drive as France poured forward.

Wales has drifted since reaching the semifinals at Euro 2016 and is clearly missing the injured Gareth Bale.

"That's the best team we've ever played against," Wales coach Chris Coleman said of France. "We gave some of the younger ones a taste of it. That's invaluable that type of experience."

His own future remains in the balance, with talks planned after the friendly against Panama in Cardiff on Tuesday.

Italy risks missing World Cup after losing to Sweden 1-0

Four-time champion Italy was left at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing at Sweden 1-0 in the opening leg of their playoff on Friday.

Substitute Jakob Johansson scored shortly after the hour mark with a shot from the edge of the area that deflected in off Daniele De Rossi. After a long throw-in, Ola Toivonen headed the ball out to Johansson and his deflected drive wrong-footed goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for his first international goal.

The Azzurri created few chances at Friends Arena outside Stockholm and were fortunate not to concede more goals after allowing Sweden a series of free kicks early on.

Italy's best opportunity was a long effort from Matteo Darmian that squarely hit the post in the 70th. The Azzurri's only other significant chance was a header from Andrea Belotti six minutes in.

Sweden imposed itself with its physicality and playmaker Emil Forsberg proved especially dangerous with his passing skills, setting up numerous opportunities.

Early in the second half, Italy became outraged at Sweden's physicality, protesting for yellow cards at perceived excessive contact. But Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir said to play on.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura wanted the referee to intervene more.

"But that's not a justification," Ventura said. "A draw was the minimum we could hope for considering what happened on the pitch."
Making matters more complicated for Italy was that creative midfielder Marco Verratti picked up a yellow card that will rule him out of the return match on Monday at Milan's San Siro.

"We need to learn from the mistakes we made tonight," Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci said. "I'm expecting a great match at the San Siro and for Italy to go to the World Cup. We've got to play the match of our lives."

Italy has only three goals in its last five matches and hasn't found the net in two of those games.

"We have to be quicker on the ball," Bonucci said. "In the return leg, we have to really fight. They played a very physical game but we can't make excuses."

Italy has participated in every World Cup since failing to qualify for the 1958 tournament, which coincidentally was held in Sweden.
The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.

While Sweden didn't compete in the last two World Cups, it impressed in qualifying with a win over France and finished ahead of the Netherlands in its group.

"We need to go to Milan and focus on our game," Sweden striker Marcus Berg said. "We know what to do. It will be a tough match but we have a strong belief in what we're going to do."

Ventura relied on Ciro Immobile and Belotti two of his former players at Torino in attack. That decision left winger Lorenzo Insigne, considered the Azzurri's most talented forward recently, on the bench. Insigne replaced Verratti for the final quarter-hour but made little impact.

With his strong play on the left flank, Darmian was Italy's only bright spot. Jose Mourinho, Darmian's manager at Manchester United who watched from the tribune, had to be pleased.

Otherwise, the Azzurri were too predictable and slow to punish Sweden's well-organized defence.

"Their goal was fairly lucky," Darmian said. "But we need to do more."

 
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