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Ukraine vs. France: Prediction, Preview and Likely Match-Winners

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Ukraine vs. France: Prediction, Preview and Likely Match-Winners
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With four UEFA places at next year's World Cup still to be filled and eight teams hopeful, there promises to be drama in world football over the next seven days. 

One hundred and 80 minutes of action stand between Ukraine and France and a coveted spot in Brazil. 

The countries kick off the first of their two-leg play-off tie at Kiev's NSK Olimpiyskiy on Friday night before the return leg at the Stade de France in Paris on Tuesday. 

Les Bleus undoubtedly are the more talented side. Didier Deschamps has an abundance of top players at his disposal, and if France do make it to the World Cup then they will pose a major threat to any team there. 

But France’s problem in recent years has been creating a team from the individual talents they possess. 

In international football, the chain can be just as important as its links, and Ukraine will be hoping to work as a collective unit to fend off France’s star players. 

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Two of France’s most important players will be the full-backs because the majority of Ukraine’s attacking threat will come down the wings. 

In Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, head coach Mikhail Fomenko has two talented youngsters who like to collect the ball in wide areas and attack their markers before cutting inside. 

Deschamps has a plethora of full-backs at his disposal. Eric Abidal, Gael Clichy, Mathieu Debuchy, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna are all capable of stifling a winger or two, and if they can keep Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka quiet, then they will keep the opposition quiet.

If everything clicks for France, then Ukraine will be fairly hapless to stop them. For some reason that only FIFA can explain, the French currently sit one place behind Ukraine in the world rankings, but they are far superior in all areas of the pitch.

The French won’t have Thierry Henry and his hand to help them through this time, but they should stamp their ticket to Brazil. Expect them to make it difficult, but they will find a way to win. 

 

Likely Match-Winners

 

Yevhen Konoplyanka—Ukraine

Konoplyanka has impressed during qualifying for the Ukraine, scoring three goals and assisting two. 

He is a speedy left-winger, who looks at ease with the ball at his feet. Against England, the FC Dnipro player provided Kyle Walker with an uncomfortable evening, and he will be looking to do more of the same against France. 

The 24-year-old plays with the type of freedom that suggests he hasn’t had many knock-backs in his young career. 

He is a right-footer on the left wing so he likes to cut in and let fly with his stronger foot. 

 

Franck Ribery—France

While much of the play-off talk has revolved around Portugal vs. Sweden and Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it would be equally dampening if the Bayern Munich man was to miss out on Brazil next summer. 

In Ribery, the French have a proven big-game player. He has shown time and time again why he is one of the world’s best, and he will be the main subject of Ukrainian attention over the 180 minutes. 

Ribery found the net five times for France in qualifying, while supplying four assists for his country. 

 

Andriy Yarmolenko—Ukraine

With Konoplyanka on the right, Yarmolenko will be looking to work his magic on the opposite flank. 

The 23-year-old can also be deployed up front, but he will likely line up on the right against France. 

The opposite of Konoplyanka, Yarmolenko is left-footed, and he too likes to cut inside off his flank. 

He was the subject of reported interest from Liverpool at the beginning of the season, but he remained at home in Kiev, where he has scored 14 goals in 21 appearances this season, including three in the Europa League.

He has also impressed in the yellow of the Ukraine, scoring four and assisting four in qualifying. 

 

Olivier Giroud—France

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Giroud has been in remarkable form for Arsenal this season, and he will be hoping to replicate his form in the blue of France. 

He isn’t your typical forward. He won’t get you goals in every single game, but it's his all-round contribution to the cause that makes him an excellent player. 

He has great ability in the air, but for a big guy, he is equally at ease with the ball at his feet. 

If he isn’t the guy scoring the match-winning goal, then he will likely be the one assisting it. 

 

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