PARIS (Reuters) - France produced a scintillating show as they put memories of one of the most painful moments in their soccer history to one side by crushing Bulgaria 4-1 in a World Cup Group A qualifier on Friday.
Les Bleus had not hosted Bulgaria since an infamous qualifier in November 1993 when they conceded a late goal to lose 2-1, a defeat that meant they missed out on a place at the following year’s World Cup in the United States.
The home side trailed again at the Stade de France on Friday after conceding an early penalty but bounced back by taking control of the midfield and breaching a porous defence almost at will.
Goals from Kevin Gameiro, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann put them 3-1 up at the break.
Gameiro, stylishly celebrating his first international for five years, then completed the scoring with his second goal of the night in the 59th minute.
France, with four points from two games, are joint top of the group alongside Netherlands and Sweden. Bulgaria occupy fourth position on three points.
The visitors went ahead against the run of play in the sixth minute, Mihail Aleksandrov converting from the spot after Georgi Milanov was fouled by Bacary Sagna.
Right back Sagna made amends with a perfect cross for Gameiro who levelled with a bullet of a diving header after 23 minutes.
Payet made it 2-1 three minutes later with a cross-shot from out on the left that eluded everyone in the box.
Griezmann then exploited a defensive blunder to race into the area unchallenged and add the third goal.
France’s fourth goal was arguably their best, Layvin Kurzawa showing off his skills down the left before Griezmann set up Atletico Madrid team mate Gameiro to fire home from close range.
“It was a perfect night,” said the two-goal forward. “We were able to react and then to stamp our authority on the game. I felt a lot of pride.”
The fact Gameiro and Griezmann combined excellently throughout was one of the keys to France’s convincing victory.
“We both play our game and it works out well,” Gameiro said. “Let’s hope it will last.”
Euro 2016 runners-up France, who kicked off their Group A campaign with a dismal 0-0 draw in Belarus, next play Netherlands in Amsterdam on Monday.
Bulgaria, trying to qualify for the finals of a major event for the first time since the 2004 European Championship, go on to visit Sweden.
Editing by Tony Jimenez