By ANDREW DAMPF – Japan Today
The way Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema linked up together for France on Tuesday, the injured Kylian Mbappé was hardly missed.
Griezmann scored twice and was set up by Benzema both times in a 2-0 win over Finland that put the defending World Cup champions in control of their qualifying group for the 2022 tournament.
Also, European Championship semifinalist Denmark extended its perfect start by dominating Israel 5-0, and Memphis Depay and Erling Haaland each had hat tricks as both the Netherlands and Norway, respectively, won in routs.
Denmark has scored 22 goals and conceded none.
With his 39th and 40th goals for France, Griezmann matched Michel Platini for third place on the team’s all-time list behind only Thierry Henry (51 goals) and Olivier Giroud (46).
France leads Group D with 12 points, seven points clear of Ukraine and Finland, which has played two games fewer.
Midway through the first half, Griezmann traded passes with Benzema before giving France the lead. The second goal came on a play that was started by Benzema, with an assist from Léo Dubois.
The match in Lyon was played in familiar territory for Griezmann, who grew up nearby.
Only the group winners directly qualify for the World Cup. Second-place finishers face a playoff.
A look at the action in each group:
Portugal overcame the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo to comfortably defeat Azerbaijan 3-0 and take the group lead.
Bernardo Silva, André Silva and Diogo Jota scored a goal each for visiting Portugal with Ronaldo suspended for accumulated cards.
Serbia had appeared on course to take the group lead before a late own goal from Nikola Milenkov negated an early score from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in a 1-1 draw at Ireland.
Portugal leads with 13 points ahead of Serbia (11), Luxembourg (6), Ireland (2) and Azerbaijan (1).
Baktiyor Zainutdinov equalized five minutes into stoppage time for Kazakhstan in a 2-2 draw at Bosnia and Herzegovina.
France leads with 12 points ahead of Ukraine (5), Finland (5), Bosnia (3) and Kazakhstan (3).
Yussuf Poulsen, Simon Kjaer, Andreas Skov Olsen, Thomas Delaney and Andreas Evald Cornelius scored as Denmark made it six wins from six qualifiers.
Also, Scotland put itself into playoffs contention with a 1-0 win in Austria following a first-half penalty from Lyndon Dykes, while the Faeroe Islands earned a rare victory by beating visiting Moldova 2-1.
Denmark leads with 18 points ahead of Scotland (11), Israel (10), Austria (7), Faeroe Islands (4) and Moldova (1).
Depay’s hat trick led the Netherlands to a 6-1 rout of Turkey, while Haaland also scored three in Norway’s 5-1 win over Gibraltar.
Montenegro and Latvia drew 0-0.
The Netherlands leads on goal difference ahead of Norway as both teams have 13 points, followed by Turkey (11), Montenegro (8), Latvia (5) and Gibraltar (0).
Croatia leads Russia on goal difference as both won.
Croatia beat Slovenia 3-0 with goals from Mark Livaja, Mario Pasalic and Nikola Vlasic, while Fedor Smolov and Zelimkhan Bakaev scored in Russia’s 2-0 win over visiting Malta.
Also, Slovakia beat Cyprus 2-0.
Croatia and Russia have 13 points each, followed by Slovakia (9), Slovenia (7), Malta (4) and Cyprus (4).