Turkey holds France to remain atop group
Turkey’s Kaan Ayhan equalized eight minutes from time after France substitute Olivier Giroud opened the scoring in the 76th as the visitors stayed top of the group with 19 points from eight games, ahead of Les Bleus due to a 2-0 win in Konya last June.
Iceland is third with 15 points after goals by Arnor Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson earned a 2-0 home victory over Andorra, with Albania fourth on 12 points following a 4-0 away win against Moldova.
“We played against an opponent stronger than us, and they played better than us,” Turkey coach Şenol Güneş said after the game.
“They had many scoring chances, and we tried to hold on. In the end, it was a good result for us. I thank all my players for their efforts and all the fans for the support.”
Turkey was without injured veteran captain Emre Belözoğlu, who damaged his ribs during a last-gasp 1-0 victory at home to Albania last week, with Leicester defender Cağlar Soyuncu starting in place of Ayhan.
“We could have avoided that goal,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “We did everything we needed to win that game, we had the chances, they didn’t, but it is what it is.
“It’s a good point. We’ll have to finish the job in November,” he added, saying Turkey, which has picked up four points against France, deserved to top the group.
“We are the two best teams in the group. Qualifiers are always complicated, it’s a long road. We should have been more efficient. They defended a lot and they deserve to be where they are.”
Turkey hosts Iceland in the next round of matches in November while France takes on Moldova.
The world champion was still without injured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, striker Kylian Mbappe and midfielder Paul Pogba, and Wissam Ben Yedder started up front in place of Giroud, who paid for his lack of playing time with Chelsea.
France was the most dangerous side as Turkey struggled to cope with the pace of Kingsley Coman, but the visiting defense, which had conceded only two goals in qualifying so far, held firm.
France midfielder Moussa Sissoko’s low shot was blocked by keeper Mert Günok and Antoine Griezmann’s curled shot went just wide as Les Bleus piled on the pressure.
Turkey, however, created a chance to opening the scoring on the hour only for Burak Yılmaz to sky his attempt over the bar at the end of a quick counterattack.
With Ben Yedder struggling to find space, Deschamps replaced him with Giroud in the 72nd minute and the substitute took four minutes to make an impact, heading home Griezmann’s corner kick.
The host’s joy, however, was short-lived as Turkey leveled six minutes later when Ayhan planted a thumping header low beyond Mandanda from a Hakan Çalhanoğlu freekick.