SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Striker Olivier Giroud scored twice to move closer to France’s national team’s scoring record as the Nations League group winner beat Sweden 4-2 and relegated it on Tuesday.
Giroud’s tally of 44 goals puts him seven behind France and Arsenal great Thierry Henry’s record of 51.
“It always feels like he has to prove himself, he scored two good goals,” France coach Didier Deschamps said, praising Giroud. “We’re not talking about a player who has never done anything up until now. People are often too hard on him.”
Unbeaten France had already booked its place in the Final Four after ensuring the top spot in League A, Group 3 with a 1-0 win at defending champion Portugal last Saturday.
France ended with 16 points from a possible 18 and Deschamps praised his players for doing so in a considerably tough group.
“I’m a very factual person. No other team has done or will do better. We had the World Cup runner-up (Croatia) in our group and the reigning European champion (Portugal),” he said. “Not everything was perfect, so we’re not going to brag, but you also have to appreciate what we’ve done. We finished with panache, bravo to my players.”
Croatia stayed in the top league despite losing 3-2 to Portugal at home, meaning Sweden finished bottom on goal difference behind the Croats.
The Swedes took the lead at Stade de France in the fifth minute when midfielder Viktor Claesson broke into the area, skipped past two tackles and poked a shot that clipped defender Raphael Varane and wrong-footed goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Marcus Thuram — son of famed France defender Lilian Thuram — was involved in both goals as Giroud equalized in the 16th and right back Benjamin Pavard put Les Bleus ahead in the 36th.
After Giroud started a counterattack from midfield, the ball was fed to Thuram down the left and his pinpoint cross was adroitly turned into the bottom left corner by Giroud.
Thuram then showed great footwork to weave past three defenders in the area and spin around a fourth. Although he lost control of the ball, it broke to Pavard on the right of the area and he drilled it firmly into the bottom left with the outside of his foot.
Giroud, who has hardly played for Chelsea in the Premier League this season, should have scored when he headed Pavard’s cross from the right wide when unmarked in the 53rd.
But he made no mistake six minutes later, meeting substitute Kylian Mbappé’s cross from the left with a diving header. Then Giroud almost set up Antoine Griezmann, directing a pass down with his chest which the Barcelona forward blazed over the crossbar in the 75th.
Substitute Robin Quaison gave the Swedes hopes of rescuing a draw when he bundled in left back Pierre Bengtsson’s cross with two minutes left in regulation time.
With every Sweden player, including the goalkeeper, camped around the goal for a last-gasp corner, France cleared the ball and Kingsley Coman ran through from midfield to roll the ball into an empty net from 40 meters out with the game’s last kick.
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