Gignac strike rescues France; Germany forced to struggle

Gignac strike rescues France; Germany forced to struggle

France had forward Andre-Pierre Gignac's first international goal to thank for a triumph that lifts them within five points of Group Seven leaders Serbia with a game in hand.

With striker Thierry Henry injured and playmaker Franck Ribery only fit enough to come on in the second half, the former world champions struggled to shine even though they never looked like conceding against dogged opponents.

Azerbaijan were no pushovers in Group Four either. They made a bright start in Baku only for midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger to give Germany the lead against the run of play, driving the ball in from the edge of the box in the 12th minute.

The visitors rode their luck on a couple of occasions before Miroslav Klose made up for a dreadful first-half miss by doubling the lead with a header in the 54th. Germany lead the group with 19 points from seven games, four more than second-placed Russia who have played six matches.

Norway moved off the bottom of Group Nine and revived their campaign by thrashing 10-man Scotland 4-0 in Oslo with Morten Gamst Pedersen grabbing a double.

They have six points from as many games, one behind second-placed Macedonia. The Netherlands have already qualified from the group.

The match turned when Scotland's Gary Caldwell got himself sent off after two yellow cards in quick succession and gave away the free kick that enabled John Arne Riise to score the first goal.

Slovenia moved up to third in Group Three by crushing San Marino 5-0 at home. Croatia won 3-1 in Belarus to go solo in second place in Group Six and keep alive their slender hopes of catching runaway leaders England, who are still seven points in front after winning their seven games so far. The Germans took command when Schweinsteiger fired a thundering left-footed drive into the top corner.

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