Skip to content

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

Nov 19, 2013, 6:08 PM EST

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. VIDEO: QPR’s Chris Ramsey “genuinely sick” after loss to Arsenal

    Mar 4, 2015, 10:51 PM EST

    Queens Park Rangers v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    Charlie Austin played well, and the club truly appeared unlucky not to find an equalizer in the 2-1 loss. They were a step off all night.

  2. No. 1 seed DC United out of CONCACAF Champions League despite win vs Alajuelense

    Mar 4, 2015, 10:00 PM EST

    concacaf-champions-league

    The aggregate loss leaves the Montreal Impact as the lone Major League Soccer hope in the CCL semifinals.

  3. Neymar brace puts Barcelona in Copa del Rey final vs Athletic Bilbao (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 9:16 PM EST

    Neymar, AP

    The clubs have played in 36 finals, second-most to Real Madrid’s 39.

  4. MLS, union come together to avoid calamitous work stoppage

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:58 PM EST

    New MLS logo Getty Images

    Clearly Nick Mendola’s open letter last night did the trick. You’re all welcome.

  5. Spitgate: Did Evans and Cisse spit at each other at St. James Park on Wednesday? Yep.

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:48 PM EST

    Newcastle United v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    The short answer is, “Yes. Yes they did.” Manchester United and Newcastle United had two more spits on target than actual goals on Wednesday.

  6. 2015 MLS Season Preview: D.C. United

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:15 PM EST

    DCUnited

    Last season a one-hit wonder? Not a chance. D.C. United is here to stay.

  7. Lloyd’s brace helps USWNT to winning start in comeback versus Norway at Algarve Cup (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:14 PM EST

    Carli Lloyd (ussoccer.com) Carli Lloyd (ussoccer.com)

    The USWNT is looking to rebound from the 2014 Algarve Cup, where it finished in 7th after drawing Japan and losing to Sweden and Denmark.

  8. 2015 MLS Season Preview: Columbus Crew

    Mar 4, 2015, 6:30 PM EST

    Crew

    Columbus needs to build on last season’s success or see it flutter away in the winds of time. Can they seize the season?

  9. Rodgers, Henderson know Liverpool’s in form at the right time. How high can they climb?

    Mar 4, 2015, 6:19 PM EST

    Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Liverpool v Burnley - Anfield AP

    And all parties are sounding quite confident, almost in the cavalier “of course we won” tone we heard so much last season.

  10. Jose Mourinho says his Chelsea team “were brothers on the pitch” in crucial win

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:52 PM EST

    Blues battle to hard-fought win at West Ham, as Mourinho hails his sides display.

  11. Van Gaal hails win over Newcastle as “maybe our best match of the season”

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:38 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Manchester United needed a gift from opposing goalkeeper Tim Krul, but Louis van Gaal loved his club’s performance on Wednesday.

  12. Roberto Martinez blames fatigue for Everton’s struggles; have “10 cup finals” to survive

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:37 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-FA CUP-EVERTON-WEST HAM Getty Images

    After their 12th defeat of the season, the Toffees after sinking towards the bottom three.

  13. Liverpool 2-0 Burnley: Reds cruise with Henderson at the helm (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:10 PM EST

    21a48a639b225b2f6c349a47a6799b1d Getty Images

    Burnley’s loss leaves them 19th, in the drop zone with 22 points.

  14. Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 Swansea City: Lloris saves it late for Spurs (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Swansea sit ninth with 40 points, while Spurs sit 7th place. Tottenham is four points behind No. 5 Liverpool.

  15. Stoke City 2-0 Everton: Moses, Diouf pile more misery on the Toffees (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Potters continue to climb up the table, as Toffees head in the opposite direction.

  16. Queens Park Rangers 1-2 Arsenal: Red-hot Giroud helps Gunners to win (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 4:50 PM EST

    Queens Park Rangers v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    It’s now five goals from his last five games for the Frenchman.