Varane edges France ahead against Norway

France 1-0 Norway
Centre-back Raphaël Varane's first-half header gave the hosts a 1-0 victory in Le Havre and a slender advantage for Tuesday's second leg.

Varane edges France ahead against Norway
Varane edges France ahead against Norway ©

Raphaël Varane's first-half goal gave France a slender advantage to take to Norway for the second leg of their UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off.

France had been been a potent, fluid force in the group stage, but were unable to get into their stride against combative opponents in Le Havre. Only Varane found a way through, heading in on 22 minutes; the hosts' inability to add to that lead means they will face a tense trip to Drammen for Tuesday's second leg.

Les Bleuets had shown great goalscoring prowess in the group stage with contributions coming from all over the pitch. Varane had chipped in too, and added his third of the qualifying campaign when a quickly-taken corner was flicked on, leaving the Real Madrid CF centre-back to direct a close-range header beyond Arild Østbø.

While France coach Eric Mombaerts had warned his team Norway's game is no longer fashioned on old-school directness, the hosts themselves wasted little time in cutting to the chase. Clément Grenier twice delivered crosses that Wissam Ben Yedder headed wide while Grenier was also alert enough to free Anthony Knockaert. The midfielder should have made better use of the pass than cut inside and run into a red-shirted bank of defenders.

Sensing the hosts were not showing the sort of form with which they had swept through the group stage, Norway showed greater initiative after the break. Anders Konradssen and Jo Inge Berget both zipped shots wide before the latter's bustling run and shot brought a first save of the game from Ali Ahamada.

Østbø was as eye-catching as his garish fluorescent kit as he leapt to his left to paw away Yann M'Vila's measured effort before turning away Knockaert's drive equally spectacularly to keep Norway's hopes alive as the hosts pressed for a second goal that never came.