Some of the Premier League’s top players – Hugo Lloris, Laurent Koscielny, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud – were joined by the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Arsenal target Thomas Lemar in an attacking line-up as Didier Deschamps’ side looked to rack up a big scoreline at Stadium Municipal.
But Luxembourg – a tiny country with a population until 600,000, and 136th in the Fifa rankings heading into the Toulouse tie – held firm despite Les Bleus having 76 per cent of the possession, with veteran goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert on form.
Deschamps’ men were unable to find a way through as they had 34 shots to Luxembourg’s three, with Arsenal’s summer signing Alexandre Lacazette also struggling to find the vital goal after replacing Gunners team-mate Giroud in the second half.
Luxembourg almost stole victory when substitute Gerson Rodrigues hit the post with a fine solo run and shot 12 minutes from time.
But France should have scored early on, when forward Klylian Mbappe pulled the ball back and Antoine Griezmann blazed over from near the penalty spot when unmarked.
Mbappe, Giroud and full-back Djibril Sidibe went close as Luxembourg continued frustrating France for the first half.
Manchester United midfielder Pogba saw his shot from outside the penalty area palmed away by Joubert in the 37th, and Joubert tipped Griezmann’s free kick onto the crossbar moments later.
The 37-year-old Joubert, making his 86th appearance, then made a superb low stop to keep out Sidibe’s close-range header in the 68th.
Luck was with the visitors as Pogba hit the crossbar with a looping header in the 77th, and the final whistle sparked scenes of jubilation among the Luxembourg players and coaching staff.
Deschamps – whose side were treated to vociferous boos at full-time – said: “We had clear chances but against a compact team like that you have to keep pushing.”
Additional reporting by Reuters.