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Football | France

Benzema, Giroud to lead France attack

France coach Didier Deschamps is set to pair Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema together in attack for Friday's World Cup qualifier in Georgia, having admitted on Thursday that the Real Madrid man 'can do better'.

Benzema has gone more than 19 hours without scoring for Les Bleus since netting a brace in a friendly against Estonia in May last year, but Deschamps will now hope that the presence of Giroud - who has started the season well with Arsenal - will take some of the pressure off his supposed star man.

"I have spoken with him several times and there are things he can do better," Deschamps said when questioned about Benzema in Tbilisi on the eve of the key Group I clash.

"Karim knows his own quality, what he is capable of doing. Everything depends on his physical condition. There have been times when his fitness has not been so good, notably last season. But he has had a fresh start and is playing regularly now."

Despite that, the 25-year-old Benzema was booed by sections of the Real Madrid support during their win against Athletic Bilbao last weekend and also came in for veiled criticism from Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti for his perceived lack of workrate, with the Italian saying that "work is applauded."

The form of Franck Ribery, currently considered to be France's only truly world-class player, is also crucial for the 1998 champions who have not scored at all in their last four games since beating Georgia 3-1 at home in March.

The Bayern Munich player has been carrying a slight calf injury but trained normally on Thursday and will play in the game.

However, there is a doubt surrounding the presence of young midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia after he picked up a knock in training.

With Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba all suspended for Friday's game - the latter two could play in Belarus next week, however - and with Clement Grenier and Etienne Capoue both injured, Deschamps is down to the bare bones in that department.

The indications are that Lyon captain Maxime Gonalons will partner Josuha Guilavogui in the centre of midfield in a 4-4-2 formation if Kondogbia does not recover.

Gonalons and Guilavogui have just nine caps between them, but France should still have too much quality for Georgia, who have not won since beating Belarus 1-0 in their first qualifier.

They lost 1-0 to a weak Kazakhstan side in a friendly last month and coach Temuri Ketsbaia is under pressure, but Deschamps says he will not be taking France's hosts lightly.

"They are collectively solid as a team, defend well and have pace and vivacity in attack," he said.

"They have nothing to lose and will be playing at home. I am not expecting any gifts."

Spain lead the group on 11 points with France one back, Finland on six and Georgia and Belarus on four.

The group winners qualify automatically for the finals while the second placed team will go into a two-legged playoff against another runner-up.


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