Ukraine vs. France: Assessing Both Teams' World Cup Hopes Ahead of Playoff

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Ukraine vs. France: Assessing Both Teams' World Cup Hopes Ahead of Playoff
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Before the final round of group stage matches, a number of pundits suggested that France would have been an ideal playoff rival for England.

Yet with Roy Hodgson's side winning their final two games to top Group H, it was Ukraine that were thrusted into the last chance saloon of a World Cup qualification decider against other runners-up from across the previous round.

Like England, Mykhaylo Fomenko's team feel a good fit to face France, with both squads featuring their fair share of exciting talents bound up in opposing pragmatic systems that also allow flair to make a difference upon games.

Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images
France boss Didier Deschamps has tried to bring his players together as a unit.

Out on flanks, the two playoff rivals can call upon exciting wingers in Yevhen Konoplyanka and Franck Ribery, respectively. Although as the reigning UEFA Best Player in Europe, the Frenchman is arguably the player of the tie.

He won't quite offer the same focus as the individuals set to contest another qualification slot in Lisbon and Stockholm, however.

With the first leg of Ukraine and France's showdown set to take place in Kiev, Konoplyanka and Co. will need to make their home advantage count with the visitor's other key players in intimidating form.

Ian Walton/Getty Images
Giroud has become a useful combination of physique and technique at Arsenal.

Olivier Giroud has transformed into one of the most well-rounded and sophisticated target men in world football; a blossoming Paul Pogba is now the hottest midfield talent in Europe; Patrice Evra is back to his best and Mathieu Valbuena looks inspired.

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Karim Benzema is another high-class option in attack for France.

Don't forget Hugo Lloris in goal, Laurent Koscielny and Eric Abidal at the back, and Blaise Matuidi in the holding role.

That's as exciting of a group of players available to any coach outside of the squads of Spain, Germany, Brazil and the World Cup's other red hot favourites.

But while Ukraine may not be able to boast as many household names—Andriy Yarmolenko could be considered their star while Anatoliy Tymoshchuk was a treble-winner with Bayern Munich last season—they are a well organised team with plenty of lesser known, yet talented, players such as Roman Zozulya.

Ian Walton/Getty Images
Ukraine captain, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk.

Whoever wins the right to reach Brazil 2014 following the second leg in Paris on November 19 will not embark on a summer as likely champions.

Obviously, anything is possible in football, but France and Ukraine are two nations just below the top tier of world powers. They exist in what could be called the England bracket of teams.

Yet, they do so on slightly different points on the spectrum.

France must pull together in order to unite their individuals behind a common vision and purpose. Ukraine must hope that their individuals can perform to their maximum to add a touch of magic to their team's sense of solidarity.

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In some ways, they each make up a half of an Italy-grade contender, and if FIFA somehow allowed for them to put their differences aside and fuse into a mutant-hybrid team, they would definitely be outside favourites for 2014.

Unfortunately for this hypothetical, team splicing isn't an option. The squad that will come out on top and head to Brazil will depart as work-in-progress hopefuls but still capable of reaching the second round at least.

 

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