TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Karim Benzema's international goal drought reached 15 games as France dropped crucial points in a 0-0 draw away to Georgia in World Cup qualifying on Friday.
The Real Madrid forward had another disappointing game and was replaced early in the second half. His strike partner Olivier Giroud almost won the match in injury time but his powerful header was saved by goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.
France has 11 points from six matches in Group I and next faces Belarus away on Tuesday. France is three points behind group leader Spain with two matches remaining and looks certain to have to go through the playoffs in November to qualify. Spain won 2-0 away to Finland.
Georgia gained in confidence after the break and goalie Hugo Lloris had to make a smart save in the 50th to foil Tornike Okriashvili as he went clean through. The midfielder then collected the rebound and hit the post as France got a reprieve in Tbilisi.
"We had chances at the end, but we failed to score. They also had a chance when they hit the post," frustrated France coach Didier Deschamps said. "If you want to win you need to score. It's not the result we came for."
Deschamps paired Benzema with the Arsenal forward Giroud but the partnership again failed to click, although Benzema wasted a good chance in the 29th when his angled shot was saved by Loria. Moments earlier, Georgia had its first chance of the match when Lloris saved a shot from the lively Okriashvili.
France had the majority of the possession early on without creating much other than a shot from winger Franck Ribery that hit the side-netting in the 12th. But the French found themselves increasingly on the back foot in the second half and, after striker Nika Gelashvili went close, Deschamps had seen enough and dragged off Benzema, replacing him with Marseille forward Andre-Pierre Gignac in the 62nd.
It was Gignac's first appearance for France for more than three years, with his last appearance coming in the last group game of France's ill-fated 2010 World Cup campaign. Benzema looked unhappy at being replaced, but he has not scored for France since netting twice in a friendly win against Estonia before last year's European Championship and his starting place is under threat for Tuesday's match against Belarus.
Shortly after coming on, Gignac just failed to get on the end of left back Patrice Evra's cross as the ball also eluded winger Mathieu Valbuena. Giroud then missed the target after being teed up by Ribery.
With time running out, Deschamps brought on Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri, and he created a chance for Valbuena, but Loria saved it and then denied Ribery with a fine stop as France pressured late on.
Giroud had rescued a point away to Spain in a 1-1 draw with an injury-time header, but failed to repeat that this time. "It's a pity because we had the chances," Ribery said. "We can be disappointed tonight."