Nov 19, 2013, 6:08 PM EDT
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.
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.
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.
Jul 4, 2015, 1:15 AM EDT
Tyrone Mears scored an absolute beauty late in the match to down a ten-man D.C. United.
Jul 4, 2015, 12:59 AM EDT
The English defender is still getting over the heartbreak of an own goal.
Jul 4, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT
Despite leaving Nashville with a 4-0 win, Jurgen Klinsmann was far from pleased with how the United States played.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:32 PM EDT
Substitutes scored the goals for each side, as the Fire leave Houston with a point.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Wambach gets a second chance in a World Cup final against Japan again on Sunday.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Seventeen players saw action in the USMNT’s 4-0 over Guatemala. See who helped (or hurt) their standing heading into the Gold Cup.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT
The U.S. turned things around mid-tournament and now finds itself in the World Cup final.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:35 PM EDT
For the second straight Copa America tournament, Peru has left with a third place finish.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
Three second half goals led to an easy win for the USMNT, as the Gold Cup is now just four days away.
Jul 3, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT
Deemed as excess talent by their Premier League clubs, Nani and Lukas Podolski are headed to the Turkish Super Lig.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
With Queens Park Rangers relegated to the Championship, the club wants to get top dollar for star striker Charlie Austin.
Jul 3, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Pride is on the line as Peru and Paraguay look to take home third place at the 2015 Copa America.
Jul 3, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
Anelka now a manager? Oh how times have changed…
Jul 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Women’s players can get representation from FIFPro for the first time in the continued fight for equality.
Jul 3, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
The West Midlands club released a statement today that new ownership should be in place “by the end of this month.”
Jul 3, 2015, 3:33 PM EDT
Fiorentina has lawyered up as the Chelsea winger has reportedly refused to return to the club on another loan.
Jul 3, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT
Three suggested lineups for Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of the USA vs. Guatemala on Friday.
Jul 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
Martunis’ incredible story will now continue in Lisbon.
Jul 3, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Analyzing where the final in Santiago on Saturday will be won and lost.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Another day, another healthy dollop of gossip from around the Premier League.
- Klinsmann on USMNT’s win over Guatemala: “I’m not happy with that performance” 0
- USMNT player ratings: How Klinsmann’s men fared against Guatemala 1
- USA 4-0 Guatemala: USMNT cruises into Gold Cup with win in Nashville 0
- World players’ union FIFPro opens door to women for first time in 50-year history 0
- How will USMNT line up vs. Guatemala in final pre-Gold Cup friendly? 3
- Chile vs. Argentina – Three key battles that will decide the Copa America final 0