France prepared for their FIFA World Cup™ play-off with a 3-1 win over Austria that will ease the pressure on under-fire coach Raymond Domenech and his players.
Karim Benzema set Les Bleus on their way in the 17th minute and Thierry Henry doubled their tally from the spot 10 minutes later. Marc Janko pulled one back three minutes into the second half but substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac, who had scored a double against the Faroe Islands on Saturday, restored France's two-goal advantage with a superb strike.
The only blow was the loss of Henry early in the second half with a thigh injury, while one of the very few bright spots for the visitors was the appearance of substitute David Alaba, who at the age of 17 becomes Austria's youngest-ever international. France's performance over the past week will have done much to silence their critics as Les Bleus, who had previously scored only 10 goals in eight games, have rattled in eight in the past two matches.
With France having already booked their place in the play-offs there was little to play for but pride in this final Group 7 qualifier, but they definitely felt they had a point to prove and were determined to so. Henry almost gave them the perfect start in the second minute but the Austrian defence did well to deal with his 30-yard free-kick.
It was the visitors who had the first real chance on goal in the sixth minute when Gael Clichy lost the ball in a dangerous position and Janko sent a low rasping shot which whistled past Hugo Lloris' right-hand post. They went even closer only to be denied by a fantastic save from Lloris who turned Stefan Maierhofer's fierce half-volley round the post at full stretch.
That seemed to scare the French into further endeavour and they opened the scoring minutes later. Maierhofer cleared a corner but only as far as Florent Malouda, who sent in the perfect cross for Benzema to head home.
France doubled their advantage in the 27th minute when Rod Fanni appeared to trip but the referee adjudged him to have been fouled by Christian Fuchs and Henry stepped up to convert the penalty. Austria did not let their heads drop and almost immediately pulled one back as a Yasin Pehlivan effort flew over the crossbar from just outside the area.
However, it was France who looked more likely to score and Henry would have got his 52nd goal had Jurgen Patocka not made a timely intervention as the Barcelona striker raced through clear on goal. Henry was left fuming minutes later when Benzema opted to go for goal rather than pass to the former Arsenal player who was in a much better position.
Austria came out after the break in rejuvenated fashion and reduced the deficit shortly after the restart. Henry, who had been faultless up until then, lost the ball in midfield and it eventually fell to half-time substitute Erwin Hoffer, who unleashed a wicked shot which Lloris could only parry to the feet of Janko, who slotted home.
The visitors were looking more dangerous as they searched for the equaliser but found themselves further behind in the 67th minute when Gignac raced down the left flank before beating his marker and cutting inside to fire in his third goal in two matches.
Both teams continued to entertain but without producing any clear-cut opportunities. Gignac could have extended his tally but Austria goalkeeper Christian Gratzei did well to stop his effort, however, the Toulouse youngster has surely all but booked his ticket to South Africa should France get through the play-offs.
FIFA.com will be streaming the European play-off draw directly from the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Monday at 14:00 CET.