Skip to content

World Cup Qualifying Preview: Ukraine v. France

Nov 14, 2013, 2:48 PM EDT

Ribery AP

France travel to Kiev on Friday for the first-leg of their World Cup Qualifying play-off match against Ukraine.

Failing to overcome Spain for top spot in their qualification group Didier Deschamps‘ men now face a difficult Ukraine squad in a hostile location, the Olympic Stadium. France, however, enter the match on a strong run of form, winning their last three matches (against Belarus, Australia and Finland) in convincing style.

Les Blues will be led by Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, who was recently named Best Player in Europe for the 2012-2013 season by UEFA. In an interview on Wednesday Ribery described himself as “fit and healthy” ahead of the match and insisted that France are not taking Ukraine lightly. “For me it’s very important that we qualify. Ukraine are a good team but France have to be in Brazil.”

Another key player for France, striker Karim Benzema, echoed the urgency and seriousness of the play-off. “We will give everything in these two games,” the Real Madrid striker said. “We will qualify, I am sure. There is no choice. At the end, there is the ticket to the World Cup in Brazil – the most beautiful. A World Cup in the land of football.”

A lingering issue for the French, of course, is the poor showing the side gave both on and off the pitch in South Africa 2010. For Ribery, the matches against Ukraine provides a chance for the team to make it up to the fans. “It was difficult for us in 2010 and now we have a chance to make amends.”

From all indications, those amends could be made in front of as many as 2,000 Frenchman scheduled to accompany Les Bleus to Kiev. “There is a relationship that is developing between us and our fans,” said midfielder Rio Mavuba. “They’re behind their team now, and that’s great because we’ll really need them for these two matches.”

Ukraine have also enjoyed good form by taking 13 of a possible 15 points from their last five World Cup Qualifiers. In large part that success has been due to Ukraine’s primary attacking threats, wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, with the former having scored four times in the group stages.

Yet still, most players on the Synyo-Zhovti recognize they are the underdogs in this play-off. “Their players are all based in the leading championships,” said forward Marko Devic. “We’re not heading into the unknown; we know exactly what we’ll be up against: one of the best teams in the world.”

Both sides have past heart-aches that will serve to motivate.

Deschamps was part of the France team that lost 2-1 to Bulgaria at the Parc des Princes in November 1993, ending French hopes of securing their berth at the 1994 World Cup. The 45-year-old admits he is still haunted by the failure 20 years ago but is nevertheless focused on ensuring qualification for Brazil. “It may have been 20 years ago but it still sticks in my mind,” he said. “I don’t want to experience that again.”

Ukraine’s bad memories are a bit more recent as they have suffered play-off defeats in three of the last five World Cups: 1998, 2002 and 2010.

Prediction

Expect a cagey first leg in Kiev with Ukraine looking to defend well and feed off the energy from the home crowd. They’ll do their best to avoid conceding and I think Ukraine will manage to do that for the majority of the game but the French will break them late and enjoy a one goal edge heading back to Paris.

Latest Posts
  1. USMNT player ratings: Johnson, Bradley, Dempsey diamonds in a rough, ugly win

    Jul 8, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT

    Team USA's Clint Dempsey (R) tries to get a loose ball from Honduras' Bryan Acosta (6) during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match on Tuesday, July 7, 2015, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Steve Nurenberg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images) Getty Images

    We highly doubt any U.S. fans were impressed by more than 2-3 players in Tuesday’s Gold Cup opener, and that’s okay.

  2. 2015 Gold Cup: Three things we learned from the USA’s 2-1 victory over Honduras

    Jul 7, 2015, 11:41 PM EDT

    FRISCO, TX - JULY 07:  Clint Dempsey #8 of USA celebrates after scoring against Honduras during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between USA and Honduras at Toyota Stadium on July 7, 2015 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    From Alvarado to Zardes with Najar in between, Andy Edwards tells you what he saw in Frisco.

  3. USMNT 2-1 Honduras: Dempsey brace enough for sloppy Yanks

    Jul 7, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT

    FRISCO, TX - JULY 07:  Clint Dempsey #8 of USA scores against Honduras during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between USA and Honduras at Toyota Stadium on July 7, 2015 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Next up in Group A is a Friday doubleheader in Foxborough, with Panama and Honduras opening the evening for the U.S. and Haiti.

  4. From London to Lisbon: Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz has a new club

    Jul 7, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT

    CANTON DE BELEN, COSTA RICA - JUNE 01:  Bryan Ruiz of Costa Rica holds the ball during Costa Rica training session ahead the beginning of Gold Cup 2015 at FEDEFUTBOL-Plycem Training Centre on June 01, 2015 in Canton de Belen, Costa Rica. (Photo by Arnoldo Robert/LatinContent/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ruiz will join a potent attack with Islam Slimani and Fredy Montero.

  5. LOGO: Atlanta United unveils logo, makes name official at Tuesday event

    Jul 7, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT

    Atlanta United

    The idea of gold playing a big role is nice, although only the red separate this look from the Philadelphia Union.

  6. Panama 1-1 Haiti: Nazon’s dizzying move helps Les Grenadiers to surprising draw (video)

    Jul 7, 2015, 9:06 PM EDT

    FRISCO, TX - JULY 07:  Blas Perez #7 of Panama controls the ball against Jerome Mechack #3 of Haiti during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between Panama and Haiti at Toyota Stadium on July 7, 2015 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Duckens Moses Nazon, take a bow: Your 86th minute goal helped start the 2015 Gold Cup in style.

  7. FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT begins Gold Cup defense versus Honduras (Lineups)

    Jul 7, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    @USSoccer @USSoccer

    Michael Bradley assumes the captain’s armband from Clint Dempsey and will earn cap No. 100 for his career in the Gold Cup.

  8. CONCACAF ends corporate partnership with FIFA scandal-embattled Traffic Sports USA

    Jul 7, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT

    concacaf

    It’s certainly one of those press releases that makes you think, “Well, I had just assumed that happened, but thanks for confirming.”

  9. WATCH: President Obama calls & congratulates USWNT, invites team to White House

    Jul 7, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT

    Obama USWNT

    All this on the heels of the USWNT announced as the first female team to received a ticker tape parade down New York City’s Canyon of Heroes.

  10. Galaxy’s Gerrard meets the media: “Very impressed with the standard” of MLS

    Jul 7, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT

    CARSON, CA - JULY 7: New Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Steven Gerrard #8 poses with his jersey after a news conference on July 7, 2015 at StubHub Center in Carson, California. The former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is scheduled to play his first MLS match on Friday, July 17 at StubHub Center against San Jose Earthquakes. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) Getty Images

    You get the feeling it’s impossible not to be motivated when Steven Gerrard is your teammate. Now toss in Robbie Keane.

  11. USWNT to become first females in 55 years to get ticker tape parade down NYC’s Canyon of Heroes

    Jul 7, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT

    USA v Germany: Semi Final - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 USA v Germany: Semi Final - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015

    The last female to receive a ticker tape parade down that route was 1960 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Carol Heiss Jenkins.

  12. Three reasons Canada could surprise Group B (and beyond) at Gold Cup

    Jul 7, 2015, 4:58 PM EDT

    TORONTO, ON- JUNE 16  -   Tesho Akindele battles for a ball with Chad Bertrand as Team Canada plays Dominica in the second leg of World Cup qualifying   at BMO Field in Toronto.  June 16, 2015.        (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Their “no-name” defense hasn’t allowed a goal in four matches, and Canada could surprise you this month.

  13. United States midfielder Lauren Holiday announces plans to retire with Women’s World Cup title in hand

    Jul 7, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT

    VANCOUVER, BC - JULY 05:   Lauren Holiday #12 of the United States celebrates as she scores her first goal in the first half against Japan  in the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 Final at BC Place Stadium on July 5, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Lauren Holiday, 27, scored the eventual game-winning goal in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final.

  14. Lampard talks club, challenge, Gerrard: “For me this is as much of a challenge as Chelsea was, as Man City was” (video)

    Jul 7, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT

    Source: New York City FC Source: New York City FC

    “For me this is as much of a challenge as Chelsea was, as Man City was,” Lampard said. “I play football to win.”

  15. 2015 Gold Cup predictions: Can the USMNT win back-to-back titles? Here’s our picks…

    Jul 7, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Championship - 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Getty Images

    PST’s staff predict how the Gold Cup will play out as the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica clash to become CONCACAF champs.

  16. 2015 Gold Cup: USMNT player profiles – Forwards

    Jul 7, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT

    England v USA: Group C - 2010 FIFA World Cup Getty Images

    Altidore and Dempsey will lead the attack. But who else is in reserve?

  17. Where does Andrea Pirlo joining New York City FC rank in history of MLS mega-deals?

    Jul 7, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Is he in the top five of superstars to join North America’s top-flight since the DP rule was introduced?

  18. 2015 Gold Cup: USMNT player profiles – Midfielders

    Jul 7, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT

    Mix Diskerud, USMNT Mix Diskerud, USMNT

    Will Yedlin start on the right? Have Bradley and Mix got the center locked down?

  19. Reflecting on Michael Bradley from 1-99, as he hits 100 USMNT caps vs. Honduras

    Jul 7, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT

    Michael Bradley, USMNT Getty Images

    A man who’ll go down as one of the USMNT’s all-time greats hits 100 caps tonight. A few thoughts on Il Generale.

  20. Gold Cup Today: USMNT face Honduras, Panama vs. Haiti kick things off – Day 1

    Jul 7, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT

    Honduras v United States Getty Images

    Day 1 of the 2015 Gold Cup is here, as the U.S. starts its title defense with a showdown in Texas.

Featured video

PST Extra: Done deals & transfer gossip