France's World Cup dreams are on the verge of being dashed, after they suffered a disappointing but undoubtedly deserved 2-0 defeat to Ukraine on Friday evening.
In the first leg of their play-off encounter in Kiev, a strike from Roman Zozulya and late penalty from Andriy Yarmolenko saw Ukraine build a healthy advantage ahead of the second leg on Tuesday.
Laurent Koscielny—who fouled Zozulya in the build-up to Yarmolenko's goal—was also sent off in the closing stages for a petulant push, creating an additional defensive headache for Didier Deschamps ahead of that return contest.
Of moderate consolation might be the fact that Oleksandr Kucher's even later dismissal (for a second yellow card) will cause Mykhaylo Fomenko similar difficulties.
Fomenko will be able to deal with that dilemma with the relative confidence afforded him by a two-goal advantage, one his side—and Zozulya in particular—fought manfully to create.
Dogged in the first half as they frustrated France in attack, Ukraine struggled for opportunities of their own, with Yevhen Konoplyanka seeing perhaps the best opportunity of the half deflected wide by Mathieu Debuchy.
In the second half the game opened up slightly, however, and it was Ukraine that benefitted—with the patient Zozulya at the heart of it. The striker had received almost no service to speak of for an hour, but did his job to turn past Hugo Lloris when the best chance of the game was presented to him.
That lifted the home side and their vociferous supporters, and Zozulya became an increasingly physical nuisance to the French backline.
Eric Abidal was perhaps lucky to avoid giving away a penalty for a clumsy challenge as the striker tried to chase down a lofted through-ball, but his partner Koscielny was not so fortunate minutes later—the referee showing no hesitation in pointing to the spot after the Arsenal defender's challenge found nothing of the ball.
Yarmolenko took responsibility for the crucial kick and showed no sign of nerves; lashing a powerful shot off the underside of the bar that left Lloris with no chance.
Aware they were on the verge of missing out on the World Cup, France seemed to implode rather than redouble their efforts. Ukraine poured forward but could not find a third, possibly decisive goal—but they did receive another present, as Koscielny slapped a Ukrainian player to receive his marching orders.
Kucher followed him down the tunnel moments later for a foul on the onrushing (but otherwise quiet) Franck Ribery, but it was a relatively minor disappointment in the scheme of things for a delighted Kiev crowd.
There is still 90 minutes of the tie to go, but France need to improve greatly if they are to have any chance of pulling off a spectacular recovery.
"We took a hit today. This was a bad result, but there's a second match and we shall see what happens in that one," Deschamps said, according to the Associated Press. "We didn't come to play for a draw or just defend."
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/11/15/4469166/ukraine-beats-france-2-0-in-world.html#.UoanlZRmUU4#storylink=cpy
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The two teams return for the second leg on Tuesday, in Paris.