France's World Cup hopes dented by goalless draw

REUTERS - France's chances of qualifying directly for the 2014 World Cup finals were left hanging by a thread following a goalless draw in Georgia on Friday.

Les Bleus remain second in Group I with 11 points from six games, trailing leaders Spain, who beat Finland 2-0, by three points.

With two games left, France look as if they will have to settle for a second-place finish and attempt to qualify for the showpiece tournament in Brazil via the playoffs.

Karim Benzema was in the starting 11 but once again failed to find the back of the net and has now gone more than 20 hours, and 15 games, without scoring for France.

Georgia stay second from bottom on five points.

France, who have not scored in their last five matches, next face Belarus away on Tuesday.

They will need to show more of the form that made them world champions in 1998 if they are to avoid another embarrassing result.

"We did a lot of things, we had opportunities in the end, but we failed to score," France coach Didier Deschamps told French TV channel M6.

"They also had a chance when they hit the post. At the end of the day if you want to win you need to score. It's not the result we came for."

Midfielder Franck Ribery, who was a pale shadow of his brilliant self, added: "It's a pity because we had the opportunities in the second half. We can be disappointed tonight."

Benzema's last goal came in a 4-0 friendly win against Estonia in June 2012 and it never looked like the Real Madrid striker would find the back of the net in Tbilisi.

Deschamps's side dominated possession as Georgia looked perfectly happy to sit back and wait but the visitors were too shy in the box.

Ribery's crossed shot from the edge of the area shaved Giorgi Loria's right post in the 12th minute. Benzema's best effort came in the 29th minute, when his weak shot was easily blocked by Loria.

Georgia came closest early in the second half when Tornike Okriashvili's low shot from close range hit the post.

France, however, almost managed to pull it off in added time, but Loria parried away Olivier Giroud and Bacary Sagna's headers in quick succession in impressive fashion.

(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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