Skip to content

Historic comeback sees France into World Cup 2014, Ukraine denied place in Brazil

Nov 19, 2013, 6:08 PM EDT

mamadou_sakho_karim_benzema Reuters

If reaction to last week’s loss in Kiev seemed over-the-top to you, know that no team had ever come back from a 2-0, first leg loss in a UEFA playoff. So while the reaction to France’s two-goal loss last Friday may have carried a tinge apoplexy, it was justified. History told us France, one of handful of most talented teams in world soccer, was virtually done, set to be to 2012 what the Netherlands were to World Cup 2002.

Virtually, however, is the key word. France was not dead, a point Didier Deschamps hammered home post-match last Friday. Although the French public were dubious, figures like Zinedine Zidane picked up the flag, trying to rally the spirits of what was anticipated to be a circumspect Paris crowd. And after today’s performance at the Stade de France, they were vindicated for doing so.

With first half goals from Mamadou Sakho and Karim Benzema, Les Bleus had climbed out of their hole, and when the Liverpool defender completing his unlikely double in Tuesday’s second half, France’ re-wrote European qualifying history. Becoming the first team to overturn a two-goal, first leg deficit, France is into their fifth consecutive World Cup, sending Ukraine home after today’s 3-0 result in Paris.

Deschamps’ team, who held 68 percent possession and outshot Ukraine 24-9, joins Portugal, Croatia, and Greece as fellow playoff qualifiers from Europe. With Africa seeing Ghana and Algeria qualify earlier today, Brazil 2014 is up to 30 confirmed teams, with Mexico (up 5-1 over New Zealand) and Uruguay (up 5-0 on Jordan) likely to complete the field.

[MORE: Ronaldo topples Zlatan: Real Madrid star’s hat trick sends Portugal past Sweden, into the 2014 World Cup]

[MORE: Europe World Cup playoff roundup: Greece, Croatia complete UEFA’s field for Brazil 2014]

Coming off their first leg disappointment, France made five changes to their starting XI. Sahko and Raphael Varane came in for Eric Abidal and the suspended Laurent Koscielny in defense. Oliver Giroud and Samir Nasri gave way to Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena in attack, while Yohan Cabaye‘s inclusion at Newcastle teammate Loic Remy‘s expense completed Deschamp’s makeover, changing his formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3.

The new team was dominant from the opening moments, not unexpected considering the margin Ukraine had earned in Kiev. But with an early chance from Franck Ribéry and the constant, niggling tests of Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, Les Bleus quickly showed their control would be about more than possession. Had the Shakhtar backstop not made some good early reads, Saint-Denis would have exploded early.

Instead it took 22 minutes for France to scratch the surface, Sahko’s first goal of the night capitalizing on a hard shot from Ribéry. Culminating play that began from a deep restart, Pyatov could do little but lay Ribéry’s shot out for Sahko, whose conversion brought France within one.

source:

Didier Deschamps (right) won a World Cup as a player in 1998. Now he’s set to return as manager of France, having guided his national team through its playoff with Ukraine. (Photo: Reuters.)

Eight minutes later, France had their equalizer. Moments after being erroneously ruled offside, Benzema benefitted from the linesman’s flag mistakenly staying down, his harnessing of some penalty box chaos from an offside position making it 2-2 (aggregate).

One minute into the second half, fortune found France again, this time through the boots of defender Yevhen Khacheridi. The Ukraine center back slid threw Ribéry just after the half’s opening whistle, earning his second yellow card of the night. Though the visitors nearly took a surprise lead moments later, the loss of a man doomed their World Cup hopes.

In 73rd minute, France finally punched their ticket. Sakho, again cleaning up close to goal, converted from five yards out, the former Paris Saint-German man’s second goal sending France back to the World Cup.

The match’s final chapter was one-way traffic, France constantly pushing Ukraine’s backs against their own goal. With the talent to hold the ball and the intent to put the playoff out of reach, Les Bleus were intent on grabbing a fourth. Though the insurance goal never came, France were still able to kill off the match’s final 20 minutes, allowing them to survive a second straight World Cup qualifying playoff.

Along the way, Les Bleus made history, becoming the first team to overcome that 0-2 opening leg deficit. They also grabbed something that’s been absent over the past four years: Some real positive momentum.

Though a run of good results under Laurent Blanc had allowed them to move on from their disaster at South Africa 2010, France still proved relatively meek at Euro 2012. Now, having faced this worst-case scenario and prevailed, a young, talented generation of club-level stars may be set to transfer their potential onto the international stage.

At a minimum, they have something positive, unifying to build on. It’s not every playoff that ends with this type of accomplishment.

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Real Salt Lake

    Aug 31, 2014, 1:37 AM EDT

    javier_morales AP

    A controversial penalty provided RSL’s equalizer as the teams shared points at Buck Shaw.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Vancouver Whitecaps 0-3 Portland Timbers

    Aug 31, 2014, 12:53 AM EDT

    maxi_urruti Getty Images

    A second half explosion helped Caleb Porter’s team claim fifth in the Western Conference.

  3. “Gutted” Toronto FC rues blowout loss to New England

    Aug 31, 2014, 12:20 AM EDT

    Doneil Henry Getty Images

    Not the expected sight: Jermaine Jones as the USMNT midfielder walking off the field with three points, not TFC’s Michael Bradley.

  4. WATCH: Louis van Gaal sees chances, wants Manchester United’s attack to convert them

    Aug 30, 2014, 11:11 PM EDT

    louis_van_gaal AP

    Red Devils’ boss was happy with the opportunities his team generated at Turf Moor.

  5. MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 1-0 FC Dallas

    Aug 30, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT

    robert_earnshaw AP

    A late goal from Robert Earnshaw snaps FCD’s unbeaten run.

  6. MLS Snapshot: Montréal Impact 2-0 Columbus Crew

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:52 PM EDT

    andres_romero AP

    Igancio Piatti’s first two goals give the Impact their second win in three games.

  7. Premier League Sunday Preview: Tottenham host Liverpool, Arsenal face Leicester

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:23 PM EDT

    Source: Mario Balotelli Source: Mario Balotelli

    Three superb games are coming your way on Sunday. Here’s a look at what to expect from all three.

  8. WATCH: Manuel Pellegrini keeps Manchester City’s upset loss in perspective

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:01 PM EDT

    manuel_pellegrini Getty Images

    Defense was Pellegrini’s biggest concern after Saturday’s 1-0 loss.

  9. Revolution feeling a Jermaine Jones boost after unloading on Toronto

    Aug 30, 2014, 8:46 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 8.26.35 PM

    New England’s locker room was abuzz after the team thumped Toronto FC 3-0 in its own house… even before new boy Jermaine Jones subbed on.

  10. Reports: Julian Green to be loaned from Bayern Munich to Hamburg

    Aug 30, 2014, 8:17 PM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US AP

    HSV is close to landing the 19-year-old on a year-long loan.

  11. WATCH: Arlo White, Lee Dixon reflect on a nine-goal day at Goodison Park

    Aug 30, 2014, 8:10 PM EDT

    tim_howard_diego_costa Getty Images

    NBC Sports was on hand for a memorable day in Liverpool, when Chelsea were pressed to preserve the team’s early lead.

  12. MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 0-3 New England Revolution

    Aug 30, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT

    lee_nguyen AP

    A disappointing performance from the Reds saw the Revolution back into the East’s top five.

  13. WATCH: Recapping the Premier League’s seven-match Saturday

    Aug 30, 2014, 6:39 PM EDT

    diego_costa Getty Images

    Twenty-four goals across the day’s seven games made for a highlight-filled open to the Premier League’s weekend.

  14. MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Colorado Rapids

    Aug 30, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    Colorado Rapids v Seattle Sounders Getty Images

    Clint Dempsey’s second half goal pushed Seattle five clear at the top of the standings.

  15. Xabi Alonso debuts as Bayern Munich held at Schalke

    Aug 30, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT

    xabi_alonso AP

    Second half goal from Benedikt Höwedes gave Schalke a point at home.

  16. Monk has Swansea unbeaten through three, but still eyeing safety first

    Aug 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Swansea City v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    The young Swans manager is hoping to get “to the 40-point barrier as fast as possible” after the hot start.

  17. Premier League Saturday Roundup: Chelsea win classic; Stoke stun Man City

    Aug 30, 2014, 2:57 PM EDT

    Costa scored twice, as USA's Howard let in six on Saturday. AP

    All the action from a sensational Saturday of Premier League action.

  18. Pellegrini questioned on Falcao to Man City rumors; Real Madrid lurks

    Aug 30, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT

    Radamel Falcao AP

    Real Madrid could be the deepest attacking side in the world right now, and they just may get deeper.

  19. Everton 3-6 Chelsea: Blues prevail in sensational nine-goal thriller (video)

    Aug 30, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    One of the greatest games in Premier League history played out at Goodison. Relive it, here.

Featured video

Week 3: Saturday Premier League recap