(Reuters) - Euro zone economic growth was stronger than expected in the third quarter, preliminary data showed on Friday, as France beat market expectations and Germany steered clear of a recession.

A preliminary estimate by the European Union's statistics office Eurostat showed that the economy of the 18 countries sharing the euro expanded 0.2 percent quarter-on-quarter in the July-September period after a 0.1 percent rise in the previous three months.

Year-on-year, euro zone growth was 0.8 percent in the third quarter, the same as in the second quarter, against market expectations of a 0.7 percent rise.

Eurostat data showed Europe's biggest economy Germany grew 0.1 percent, in line with expectations but confounding some economies who had feared a second quarter of negative growth. The euro zone's second biggest France grew 0.3 percent against market expectations of a 0.2 percent gain.

"The euro zone economy is still growing, albeit at snail’s pace, despite all the doom mongering by the IMF and others," said Nick Kounis, the head of macro and financial markets research at ABN AMRO.

"A slow recovery rather than a third recession looks to be on the cards. Having said that, this is not an outlook that policymakers could possibly be satisfied with," he said.