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.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Lampard: “I want to test myself, carry on challenging myself, I want to be that leader and that person on and off the pitch that can make things happen for this club.”
Jul 24, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
The 36-year-old becomes New York City FC’s fourth player.
Jul 24, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
The Manchester United boss proves that even Premier League training sessions sometimes echo your experiences on a youth travel team.
Jul 24, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT
The Reds striker spends some time with the NBCSN broadcast crew during Liverpool and AS Roma’s ‘Football at Fenway’
Jul 24, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
The Ecuadorian star winger, 24, joins Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bafetimbi Gomis as players to beef up Garry Monk’s attack
Sporting Club announces plans for $75 million “soccer village” for US Soccer National Training Center
Jul 24, 2014, 9:01 AM EDT
Well, this sounds nice…
Jul 24, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
The growing mess in Israel carried over onto the soccer fields of Austria, where Maccabi Haifa played a preseason friendly against Lille.
Jul 24, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT
Almost 90,000 fans in Los Angeles watched Manchester United put an old-fashioned punking on their hosts. And then both sides reacted.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:27 PM EDT
Surely one of these clubs enjoyed the sweeter side of this deal and here we set out to see who it was.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT
Despite starting only 12 Premier League matches last year, James Milner has decided to remain at Manchester City and fight for his place.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Catch the San Jose Earthquakes and Chicago Fire live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra tonight at 10:30pm ET.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
In a relaxed match featuring over forty players, the difference came in the 89th minute as Marco Borriello knocked home a corner.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
Rijeka have come forward to say they “clearly and unequivocally reject” City’s allegation of racism.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT
Beasley signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Dynamo and becomes the club’s third Designated Player.
Jul 23, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Catch Liverpool and AS Roma live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra tonight at 7:00pm ET.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Jurgen Klinsmann has long coveted Zelalem and the 17-year old looks to be next in line to don the Stars & Stripes.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
According to Fuchs, Germany and France would be happy to take over if needed.
Jul 23, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT
Sigurdsson, who scored seven goals during a loan spell with Swansea in 2011/12, returns at the Liberty after two seasons at Spurs.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Can the Spanish international be a success at Chelsea? You bet.
Jul 23, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
Is there anything Balotelli can’t do?
- Frank Lampard delighted to sign for New York City FC, start MLS adventure 0
- Official: Frank Lampard unveiled as New York City FC’s latest signing 2
- Sporting Club announces plans for $75 million “soccer village” for US Soccer National Training Center 4
- “Embarrassed” in LA, thrilled in Manchester: Reactions to 7-0 beatdown 11
- Liverpool 0-1 AS Roma: Marco Borriello winner gives Italians victory at Fenway 0
- Houston Dynamo land USMNT legend DaMarcus Beasley 5