Football

Minnows Luxembourg hold star-studded France to shock draw

The combined value of France's starting XI? A mammoth £400.84 million (S$705m).

Luxembourg's starting XI? A mere £27,720.

The football minnows, who had won just 24 points in their previous 132 World Cup qualifiers, caused a major upset yesterday morning (Singapore time) when they held mighty France to a 0-0 draw in a Group A qualifier at the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse.

World No. 10 France went into the match on the back of a 4-0 mauling of Holland last Thursday and were expected to inflict even more damage on a team placed 126 places below them in the Fifa world rankings.

But a combination of the woodwork, inspired goalkeeping from Jonathan Joubert and poor finishing ensured that Les Bleus - who would have ensured a top-two finish in Group A with a win - failed to win against Luxembourg for the first time since 1914.

France are still one point clear at the top with 17 points, but Sweden narrowed the gap after beating Belarus 4-0, with Holland in third place a further three points adrift after beating Bulgaria 3-1.

Despite having 76 per cent possession, 34 shots and hitting the woodwork twice, France could not find a way past a resolute Luxembourg defence.

"It is infuriating to have so many chances and not score," said France coach Didier Deschamps.

His opposite number Luc Holtz labelled the result as "historic", saying: "A point against a top team is extremely rare. It's a day of glory for Luxembourg football."

Deschamps fielded a strong side, including Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, who recently joined Paris St Germain on loan from Monaco with a view to a £166m transfer next summer.

Griezmann did smack a 30-metre free-kick off the bar five minutes before half-time while Pogba saw a header rebound off the frame of the goal late on.

Defender Djibril Sidibe came close to putting France ahead with a header on 63 minutes that Luxembourg goalkeeper Joubert did well to save.

It could have been worse for Les Bleus, as Luxembourg substitute Gerson Rodrigues outpaced Laurent Koscielny in the 79th minute before seeing his shot strike an upright.

Luxembourg's point was just their fifth of the campaign, but it proved enough to lift them above Belarus and off the foot of the group.

Deschamps admitted that his side "can do better", but pointed to the fact they still boast a one-point lead, with their final two games coming against Bulgaria and Belarus.

He said in quotes reported by L'Equipe: "It's true that three points against Luxembourg would, of course, be better.

"I am of a positive nature but, when things are going well, like against Holland, I do not go into euphoria either.

"The players are disappointed. But the reality after this match is that we are better off in terms of points than we were before the two matches this week and we are also a point ahead of Sweden.

"We have to win our last two matches so we don't have to rely on other sides. We have everything in front of us and it only depends on us."

Griezmann said that the "beautiful" performance of Luxembourg reminded him of the toil usually exerted by his club Atletico Madrid.

He told Canal+: "Two matches in three days, it was difficult especially for me, it was because I was suspended during my last club match.

"We had 11 warriors in front of us and, for me, it was beautiful to see because it reminds me a bit of my club, but we will continue to work." - WIRE SERVICES

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