France may have avoided Portugal in their quest for World Cup qualification, but a two-legged encounter against Ukraine will have the celebrations on hold.
Didier Deschamp’s team finished second behind Spain in Group I and will be less than thrilled to face Mykhaylo Fomenko’s tricky squad, especially in Kiev. While Portugal and Sweden do battle elsewhere, this playoff draw also has the potential to be a corker.
The two-legged tie will take place on Nov. 15 and 19, with Ukraine hosting first. Away goals will be taken into account should the score finish level after 180 minutes.
Although France will be ruing their luck with this draw, Ukraine will also be feeling hard done by.
Fomenko’s team lost just one match in Group H and finished one point behind England. The pivotal result came on Oct. 16, when Montenegro nicked a 1-0 win at the Olympic Stadium, a scoreline that will haunt the players as they run out against the Les Bleus.
Despite finishing the World Cup group stage with an 8-0 drubbing of San Marino, England’s 2-0 victory over Poland ensured a difficult route for the Ukrainians. Even so, it would be foolish to underestimate the side that twice drew with the Three Lions and scored a duo of wins against Poland on their way to 21 points.
All the hard work, difficult battles and moments of quality culminate in the fixtures against France.
Players such as Andriy Yarmolenko, Marko Devic, Roman Bezus and Yevgen Seleznov have been influential throughout the campaign, scoring 14 goals between them during the group stage, per FIFA’s official website.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Yevhen Khacheridi also have three each in a team that can produce goals from across the pitch. France’s defence offers an immensely different challenge to San Marino and Moldova.
Deschamps' team were allowed to coast into a playoff spot and have lost a sense of intensity across the past year, but the must-win fixtures against Ukraine produce the perfect opportunity to get things moving with conviction.
Away form has looked particularly ropey for the 1998 World Cup winners. A defensive back four of Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Eric Abidal conceded two in the recent 4-2 win over Belarus, while France were also held to a 0-0 draw in Georgia.
Ukraine absolutely have to produce an excellent result in the first leg. The Kiev crowd needs to make France as uncomfortable as they made England and Poland with an atmosphere of intimidation and fearlessness.
Showing France too much respect will allow Franck Ribery, Olivier Giroud and Samir Nasri to hit their stride, an occurrence that will spell huge danger for the passionate home support.
Although Karim Benzema recently ended his 16-month international goal drought with a strike against Australia, per Alex Moretto of Goal, the Real Madrid star faces a battle to hold down his place in the starting XI.
Whether he makes it into the team or not, France’s squad is more than capable of dealing with their energetic opponents.
Should Ukraine have a decent result to defend in the Stade de France on Nov. 19, we could witness one of the World Cup’s greatest-ever qualification shocks.