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.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:02 PM EDT
Can the Gunners go on the road and beat Bayern 2-0 for a second-straight season in the UCL?
Mar 11, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
American investment company now owns 25 percent of United’s total shares on the NYSE:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
Newcastle boss full of remorse after unsavory incident lands him in hot water:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Pardew reprimanded by the FA, is his ban long enough?
Mar 11, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
German youth international, eligible to play for the USMNT, set to extend stay with Arsenal:
Mar 11, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
Ankle sprain is “a very rare and unique injury, and we are trying to treat it as well as possible.”
Mar 11, 2014, 4:55 AM EDT
Milan’s failed to turn its season around, with Atlético has stabilized after a February swoon.
Mar 11, 2014, 3:47 AM EDT
Bayern’s lost twice in the last 12 months – once to Arsenal. The holders will look to avoid a repeat of last year’s visit.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:32 PM EDT
There’s also a freshness under Mastroeni, who oozes the respectability that comes from a distinguished career.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:54 PM EDT
The Black Cats have played three less matches than the Bluebirds and two less than the Baggies. A win over Palace would land them even with the Eagles.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
“What I said to the players is ‘get it out of your head. Go home, reflect a little bit and I will do my best to come up with something better.’”
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
It wasn’t a pretty night to be in Turkey, as violent fans at Trabzonspor forced the abandonment of a match with rivals Fenerbahce on Monday night.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT
What to do with the goal-scoring 34-year-old Scot who’s out of contract in June?
Mar 10, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
“Kevin made a huge contribution to our qualification for the World Cup, he never let us down and now his dreams have died,” said Holland manager Louis van Gaal.
Mar 10, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT
Like Manuel Pellegrini and his distaste for a certain Swedish official, Wenger is also critical of UEFA slotting in a referee from a non-footballing power.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
MLS has become a decent destination for goalkeepers, with top internationals for Peru, Brazil and Panama plying their trades in the United States this season.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
Djalo, 27, hasn’t found his footing in Lisbon, playing in just three matches since then and spending parts of 2012 and 2013 on loan at Toulouse in Ligue 1, where he appeared 17 times.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Arsenal has been handed a boost for their massive Tuesday task of reversing Bayern Munich’s 2-0 advantage in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
“It’s like playing 1 1/2, 1 3/4 games in terms of damage to your body,” said Ryan Nelsen.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
That is not a lousy public high-five for a player, now, is it?
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