France vs. Ukraine: Prediction, Preview and Key Battles

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2013

KIEV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 15: Laurent Koscielny (C) of France fights for the ball with Ukraine's Roman Zozulya (L) during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off First Leg soccer match between Ukraine and France at the Olympic Stadium on November 15, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

France return to their nation's capital this weekend facing a steep challenge, Ukraine having shown them up 2-0 in Kiev on Friday.

As Infostrada Sports confirm, no team has ever advanced in a World Cup UEFA playoff tie after going down by two goals or more in the first leg.

So, with Les Bleus needing to make history just to qualify for the finals, it's fair to say the odds are fairly stacked against Didier Deschamps and his men.

Ahead of the French encounter, read on for a preview of the individual battles that could come to decide the fixture, as well as a prediction for who we'll see boarding a plane to Rio next summer.

 

Date: Tuesday, Nov. 19

Time: 8 p.m. GMT/3 p.m. ET

Venue: Stade de France, Paris

 

Key Battles

Andriy Yarmolenko vs. Patrice Evra

KIEV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 15: Patrice Evra (C) of France fights for the ball with Ukraine's Edmar Halovskyi (L)  and Ukraine's Roman Zozulya (R) during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off First Leg soccer match between Ukraine and France at the Olym
Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

Patrice Evra's position within the French squad is far from the most tenable right now given his recent troubles with the media, per ESPN's Ian Holyman, but the Manchester United man may have done enough last Friday to keep his place.

According to WhoScored.com, Evra made four tackles, the joint-highest of any visiting player, but had a passing accuracy of just 68 percent, far from the desired standard.

Should it be him and not Gael Clichy who steps up, the left-back is sure to encounter Andriy Yarmolenko once more, the Ukrainian winger who continues to soar in the national team.

Since he was a teenager, the 24-year-old Dynamo Kiev attacker has been billed as the future of his country's football hopes, and showed last week that he can indeed take the burden upon himself.

Yarmolenko converted Ukraine's penalty to help seal the 2-0 victory, but it was the speedster's probing runs down his right flank that draw the most attention, and are likely to have their say once again in Paris.

 

Yaroslav Rakitskiy vs. Olivier Giroud

With Olexandr Kucher sent off for two yellow cards last week, Yaroslav Rakitskiy stands as one of the most likely to replace the centre-back, although Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is another option.

The 24-year-old has only one international appearance to his name this season and the Shakhtar Donetsk stalwart could have hoped for an easier task than taking on Olivier Giroud, enjoying the best football of his career at present.

Despite seeing red, Kucher was a big tackling presence for his side in the first leg, which is something Rakitskiy will have to replicate if his side are to look anywhere near as secure at the back this time around.

 

Roman Zozulya vs. Mamadou Sakho

Of course, France also had a man of their own dismissed after Laurent Koscielny was handed his marching orders in Kiev and Mamadou Sakho looks a likely replacement. That being said, Raphael Varane could also be the man coming into the starting XI.

KIEV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 15:  Roman Zozulya of Ukraine (L) fights for the ball with Eric Abidal of France (R) during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off First Leg between Ukraine and France at the Olympic Stadium on November 15, 2013 in Kiev, Ukrai
Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

The centre-back has been in fine form for Liverpool of late but will be going up against Roman Zozulya, who was a clinical presence for the Ukrainians in the first leg.

The aerial battle will be of particular significance for Sakho coming into the team and it's vital that the French back four disrupt the opposition attack, who like to use their striking focus as a platform for the wingers to move off.

Expect Yarmolenko and Yevheniy Konoplyanka to move inside and give the French defence a lot of grief at times, with Zozulya the main target of their forward movements.

 

Prediction

Didier Deschamps
Didier DeschampsAdam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

Ukraine are far from pushovers in this battle despite the advantage in pedigree France's squad may have. In the first leg of this tie, Mykhaylo Fomenko's side were fully capable of putting an assured foot on the ball instead of panic play.

The hosts need only put in another regimented performance on Tuesday, where tactics will mean everything between winning and losing, Ukraine either choosing to shut up shop or attempt to chase a bigger lead.

Prediction: Ukraine 1-1 France (3-1 on aggregate, Ukraine advance to World Cup finals)