France joined Russia and Uruguay in securing a place in the World Cup second round, but it took a Kylian Mbappe strike in the first half to seal another unconvincing victory for the 1998 champions.
Mbappe was already his country’s youngest-ever player at a major tournament and became its youngest World Cup scorer with his 34th-minute goal, which saw him tap in from close range after Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese had half-blocked Olivier Giroud’s shot.
The goal was made possible by Paul Pogba, who dispossessed Paolo Guerrero 20 yards outside the Peru penalty area before releasing Giroud to shoot.
Although the French went close later in the opening period through full-back Lucas Hernandez, Didier Deschamps’ team laboured to the win in similar fashion to their hard-fought opening victory against Australia.
France need to draw their final group game against Denmark next Tuesday to be certain of topping Group C, but with Argentina or Croatia a potential opponent in the next round, Les Bleus will need to raise their game to be certain of advancing further in Russia.
Their win ended Peru’s hopes of progressing beyond the group. Backed by more than 25,000 fans in Ekaterinburg, the South Americans struggled to test goalkeeper Hugo Lloris on his 100th appearance for France.
Guerrero saw a first-half shot saved, while Pedro Aquino struck the outside of the post early in the second. In truth, though, France rarely looked like they would surrender their lead, despite being short of ideas when it came to adding to the scoreline.
Giroud forced Deschamps into making a selection decision for this game after he had such an impact as a substitute in the 2-1 win against Australia.
After starting with Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele against the Socceroos, Deschamps simply had to hand the Chelsea striker a place in the team against Peru, so one of the most exciting strikers in world football would have to be dropped. Both Dembele and Mbappe possess blistering pace and the ability to decide a game, but when push came to shove Deschamps chose to stick with the teenager.
It was the right call, not only because Mbappe surpassed David Trezeguet as France’s youngest World Cup goal scorer at 19 years and 183 days, but because the Paris Saint-Germain youngster tormented Peru down the right flank and worked well with Giroud.
Mbappe makes things happen and is also prepared to try the spectacular. His attempt at a back-heeled flick in the first half was the wrong decision at the wrong time, but he shrugged it off by scoring moments later after racing onto Giroud’s effort and delivering the crucial final touch.
As good as Dembele is, Mbappe just seems to have the edge in terms of maturity. Deschamps may change things again as the tournament progresses, but the Giroud-Mbappe combination is one that will trouble any opponent.