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 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?
Jul 23, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
Will Lampard be suiting up at Yankee Stadium for NYC FC next season? We find out Thursday…
Jul 23, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT
What would your school look like as a professional soccer team?
Jul 23, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
The show will go on, but not in eastern Ukraine as fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the military continues.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
German boss reveals he will stay on as manager until at least 2016. Can you smell a dynasty?
Jul 23, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT
Substance over style: Barca sign towering defender from La Liga rivals Valencia.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
Will the Mexican international be moving on this summer?
Jul 23, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Aspas to Spanish radio: “They are treating Luis like a murderer and not like a footballer.”
Jul 23, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT
Cole: “People were killing me about possibly playing in the USA, saying it’s for the money and easy lifestyle, I choose to play in a more demanding place and team.”
Jul 23, 2014, 7:38 AM EDT
Van Gaal: “You have to fly a lot, you also have jetlag – that is not very positive for a good preparation. The tour was already arranged so I have to adapt.”
Jul 22, 2014, 11:34 PM EDT
Business up front. Defense in the rear.
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