Nov 14, 2013, 2:48 PM EDT
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.
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.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT
Short written and video recap of Sunday’s games.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Manchester City goalie Joe Hart confirmed that he hadn’t discussed a new contract with the club, and Liverpool is a prime candidate for his services, according to the Metro.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
More racism was thrown at Mario Balotelli, but this time, it appears law enforcement will get involved.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck scored and assisted each other during the Gunners 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Alessandro Florenzi hugged and kissed his grandmother in the Stade Olimpico stands following his goal in AS Roma’s 2-0 victory over Cagliari.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:34 PM EDT
Everton manager Roberto Martinez laments loss to Crystal Palace, saying that his squad lost its drive for victory.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT
One England international paid respects to another as a legend scored an emotional goal for his new team against his old.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
We didn’t see this coming, and neither did Frank Lampard.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT
Pablo Zabaleta’s second yellow card changed the game, but a former Chelsea legend came back to haunt them.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Everton started early and saw much of the ball but Crystal Palace got a few breaks and took advantage to pick up their first win of the season.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:21 AM EDT
Mario Balotelli put an LOL up on Twitter at Manchester United’s expense, and subjected himself to some horrible racial abuse.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:57 AM EDT
Despite heavy defeat, United’s new attacker scores goal of the season contender.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
Everton has sewn the seeds for a good run of form and are hoping to build on recent success against a struggling Palace squad.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:42 AM EDT
Diego Costa hsa been in fantastic form to begin his Premier League career, and has the chance to fire Chelsea five points clear at the top of the table.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT
Manchester United were left shell-shocked after blowing a 3-1 lead against Premier League minnows.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:22 AM EDT
Spurs offered little as James Morrison propelled West Brom off the bottom of the table.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:33 AM EDT
Championship side Leeds is dipping into Eastern Europe to find their new manager.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:53 AM EDT
King Power Stadium is bursting with attacking skill as three goals have come within the opening 20 minutes.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT
Mauricio Pochettino has to navigate a pair of fixtures in four days thanks to the Europa League, and will look to avoid the first defeat to West Brom at White Hart Lane in 30 years.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:48 AM EDT
Radamel Falcao makes his first start for Manchester United who look to build on a strong win last weekend.
- Emotional Lampard just as shocked after pegging back ex-club Chelsea (VIDEO) 0
- Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea: Lampard shocks former club with late equalizer (video) 1
- Mario Balotelli mocks Manchester United on twitter 4
- Leicester City 5-3 Manchester United: Foxes complete comeback for the ages (video) 8
- MLS Roundup: Sounders, D.C. United slip; LA gains ground in the West 0
- Premier League Sunday preview: Man City vs. Chelsea; Everton, Spurs, Man United in action 0