France may have scored 50 unanswered goals in their ten straight FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying group wins but they could find no way past Italy in the first leg of their play-off.
Les Bleues had slightly the better of the play and came close to breaking the deadlock late on but Italy, aiming to reach their first World Cup finals since 1999, held firm. They now have home advantage for the second leg in Gubbio on Wednesday.
In a quiet first half, an early Louisa Nécib free-kick troubled Italy goalkeeper Anna Maria Picarell and Gaëtane Thiney did break through the Azzurre defence a couple of times, though without creating a clear chance. On the hour mark, Melania Gabbiadini pounced on a misplaced Sandrine Soubeyrand pass only for Bérangère Sapowicz to save at her feet.
Marie-Laure Delie, who scored nine goals for France in qualifying despite never playing more than one half, was brought on and with five minutes to go was sent clear with only Picarelli to beat but shot over. In added time, fellow substitute Laure Boulleau forced Picarelli into a fine save to frustrate the impressive crowd of 9,154 in Besancon.
Home coach Bruno Bini said: "My players showed character, but with Italy's strong defence it was not easy to keep coming back to attack again and again."
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