PARIS — A little-known goalkeeper from an unheralded club had an inspired night as Belarus held European Championship finalist France to a 0-0 draw in their 2018 World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
Six years ago, Belarus beat a crisis-hit France team 1-0 in Paris with a late goal in their opening match of qualifying for Euro 2012.
Back then, France was recovering from an embarrassing 2010 World Cup campaign, where it went out without winning a game and shocked the nation by staging a training-ground strike.
France entered this Group A game in great shape and buoyed by its run to the Euro 2016 final, where it lost to Portugal.
France dominated only to be thwarted by Andrei Gorbunov, a 33-year-old ‘keeper from Greek club Atromitos making only the ninth international appearance of his career.
The delight on the Belarus bench was matched only by the euphoria of its fans when the final whistle blew, but there were glum faces from the French.
“Their goalkeeper made some good saves, we hit the woodwork and (they had) a bit of luck,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “We came here to win. We had chances in the second half but didn’t do what we had to do. Obviously I’m disappointed.”
Belarus had one notable chance in the 22nd minute. Veteran midfielder Timofey Kalachev beat Raphael Varane down the right and whipped in a dangerous cross that somehow eluded both forward Nikolai Signevich and midfielder Mikhail Gordejchuk.
After that, it was all France.
Striker Olivier Giroud, who scored his 21st international goal in a 3-1 win against Italy last week, missed a golden opportunity early in the second half created by Antoine Griezmann — the Euro 2016 top scorer with six goals.
Griezmann, who had two opponents next to him some 35 meters out, controlled the ball with one touch and then back-heeled it to send Giroud clean through, only for the Arsenal striker to drag his shot wide.
Gorbunov then sprang into life during a frantic spell that will make him the toast of Borisov.
He saved Griezmann’s curling free-kick and, after Giroud then hit the crossbar with a header, palmed away left-back Layvin Kurzawa’s glancing header from Dimitri Payet’s free-kick.
He was only getting started.
He got his body in the way of Griezmann’s neat flick from midfielder Moussa Sissoko’s cross and leapt to his left to claw away Griezmann’s header in the 73rd.
In the group’s other games, Sweden drew with the Netherlands and Bulgaria edged Luxembourg.
SWEDEN 1, NETHERLANDS 1
Two teams looking to rebuild canceled each other out.
While Sweden fared poorly at Euro 2016, the Netherlands did not even qualify.
Life after Zlatan Ibrahimovic began well for the Swedes when Marcus Berg struck just before halftime, but Wesley Sneijder equalized midway through the second half.
Ibrahimovic retired from internationals after Euro 2016 — where Sweden failed to progress from the group stage — and his record-breaking Sweden career ended with a whopping 62 goals.
There appeared little danger when a Sweden move broke down in the 43rd. But Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman trod on the ball and Berg reacted quickly to take it off him and beat goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet with a delightful chip from just inside the penalty area.
It was only his 11th international goal, but one that Ibrahimovic would have been proud of.
Although the Dutch side is rebuilding with young players, the veteran Sneijder rescued matters with a shot into the bottom right corner.
BULGARIA 4, LUXEMBOURG 3
Luxembourg came very close to getting a draw in a thriller decided by midfielder Aleksandar Tonev’s goal in the second minute of injury time.
It was particularly cruel on Luxembourg, which equalized only a minute earlier through defender Florian Bohnert.
After veteran forward Dimitar Rangelov put the home side ahead early on, Luxembourg stunned Bulgaria with two quick goals from striker Aurelien Joachim to move 2-1 up after 62 minutes.
Midfielder Marcelinho equalized three minutes later and Bulgaria went 3-2 up through midfielder Ivelin Popov.
But there was more drama to come.