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Deschamps: Ukraine’s commitment, physicality undid France

Nov 15, 2013, 10:38 PM EDT

didier_deschamps Getty Images

While Ukraine coach Mikhail Fomenko lauded the “recipe” his team used to down France 2-0 on FridayLes Blues’ boss Didier Deschamps had a less obscure explanation for how his team was slowed down in Kiev. The keys: mentality; physical play.

“We struggled because of their commitment,” Deschamps said after his team’s first leg loss. “Ukraine defended aggressively and committed fouls. They are a solid side.”

“They knew that the danger would come from Franck Ribery’s (left) flank. He was fouled a lot and had very little space in which to express himself.”

[MORE: European World Cup playoff roundup: France on the brink of first failed qualifying campaign since 1994]

Man marked throughout the game, the Bayern Munich star drew as much attention from the referee’s whistle as his did Ukraine’s defense. Of the 23 fouls committed by the home team, 10 were against Ribery, a number Deschamps euphemistically described as “under great scrutiny.” Blaise Matuidi, the game’s next-must fouled player, was only fouled four times.

“We tried to respond to their physicality,” Deschamps explained, France having committed 19 fouls. “They restricted us going forward and then got the ball forward quickly themselves.”

The approach produced a goals from Roman Zozulya (61′) and Andriy Yarmolenko (82′, p.k.), leaving Ukraine on the verge of their second World Cup berth (2006). If France fails to turn their deficit around, it will be the first time since U.S.A. 1994 Les Bleus have missed a World Cup finals.

“It was just the first step,” Deschamps reminded the media post-match. “There is a second step.”

That second step will come next Tuesday in Paris, France needing at least two goals at the Stade de France to have a chance to advance. Win 2-0, and Les Bleus force penalty kicks. Any other two-goal victory would see Ukraine through (winning the away goals tiebreaker), while a win by three-or-more will push France’s World Cup qualification streak to five.

“I want the fans to believe in our team because we still have a second game to play,” Deschamps said, holding out hope Ukraine’s edge can be overturned.

As for Fomenko, he knows Ukraine may have to develop a new approach.

“We have to make another recipe for the second game,” Fomeko said. “[T]his one is no longer valid.”

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