France booked a spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup following a 3-0 victory over Ukraine on Tuesday in the second leg of their UEFA play-off at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
After losing the first leg 2-0 in Kiev, Les Bleus scored twice in the first half and benefited from a late own goal to qualify for their 14th World Cup finals.
Mamadou Sakho and Karim Benzema put France 2-0 ahead at half-time, a lead preserved by Mathieu Debuchy's goal-line clearance in first-half stoppage time.
The all-important third goal came in the 72nd minute when Ukraine substitute Oleh Husyev turned Franck Ribery's cross-shot into his own net.
Following a disappointing two-goal defeat in the first leg, France drew sharp criticism at home and faced heavy pressure heading into the second leg.
Manager Didier Deschamps deployed his team in a 4-3-3 formation, with Benzema replacing Olivier Giroud as centre-forward. Flanking him in the attack were Mathieu Valbuena and Ballon d'Or finalist Ribery. Deschamps made five changes in total to the side that lost in Kiev, drafting in Benzema, Sakho, Raphael Varane, Benzema and Yohan Cabaye.
"It's a bit of a tradition that when French teams have their backs against the wall, they perform, and we had a lot of heart and determination today," Deschamps told French television (AFP via Yahoo! Sports). "Now we've qualified, we're capable of some great things."
The changes brought results quickly as hosts attacked from the start, generating more chances in the opening 10 minutes than the entire first leg in Kiev.
Ribery and Benzema both supplied dangerous crosses in the opening three minutes, with the latter setting up Valbuena's curling shot, which forced a sprawling save from Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov. Then, in the eighth minute, Paul Pogba headed over the bar when unmarked in the Ukraine box.
Ukraine gradually gained a foothold in the match, but France went ahead in the 22nd minute. Valbuena swung in a free-kick from the right, and after Ribery's shot from the middle was saved, Sakho tucked in the rebound for a 1-0 lead.
The comeback was on and France nearly doubled their advantage moments later. Pogba won possession in midfield and had a clear sight of goal, but the Juventus midfielder blasted his shot over the bar. Benzema then had a goal ruled out in the 30th minute for offside.
It didn't matter, though. Four minutes later, France were level on aggregate.
Following a scramble in Ukraine's box in the 34th minute, Benzema collected the ball and fired past Pyatov. Replays showed Benzema was offside, but the goal stood.
Ukraine nearly pulled back a goal on the stroke of half-time. Following a corner, Andriy Yarmolenko's shot from the right side of the box appeared destined for the goal, but Debuchy kept the ball out with a crucial clearance.
The visitors experienced another setback early in the second half. Yevhen Khacheridi, who had already been booked, drew a second yellow card for a tackle on Ribery and was sent off in the 47th minute. But even a man down, Ukraine nearly scored the next goal, Roman Bezus curling a shot just wide in the 49th minute.
Benzema then came close for France in the 58th minute before an own goal gave France their crucial third 14 minutes later. A scramble in the Ukraine box saw Ribery's shot-cross turned into the net by Husyev with Sakho lurking behind him.
Ribery fired over in the closing moments and substitute Giroud had a point-blank header saved, but it didn't matter. The job was already done and France were again headed for the World Cup.
|France Player Ratings vs. Ukraine|
|Ukraine Player Ratings vs. France|