World Cup Play-Off: Ukraine Vs. France
Friday 15th November
Olympic Stadium | Kiev Kick Off 19:45GMT
When the draw for the qualifiers was made France pretty much knew they would be looking at a play off spot in order to reach Brazil 2014. They found themselves in a group with the dominant team in the world, Spain, so everyone else was playing for second place, however, Finland, Georgia and Belarus posed no real threat to Les Bleus as they cruised to the runner up spot in the group.
Didier Deschamps team had an impressive qualifying campaign losing only once as well as scoring 15 times in only 8 games and are full of confidence as they prepare to take on Ukraine in Kiev. There will be around 2000 traveling fans backing the visitors in what could be a hostile environment for the French. The visitors are no strangers to hostility, which occasionally takes place among their own ranks. This was particularly evident at the last World Cup in 2010 with players refusing to train after Nicolas Anelka had been sent home for verbally abusing coach Raymond Domenech. There was an outcry from supporters as that squad embarrassed the nation but that seems to be behind them and the country are united as they prepare for the final hurdle to Brazil 2014.
France can call on an incredible array of talent and there is no doubt the World Cup will be better with the likes of Cabaye, Nasri, Benzema and the player who is many peoples favourite for this years Ballon d’Or, the brilliant Franck Ribery. However, they are facing a Ukraine team who are unbeaten in their last 7 competitive games and who finished only 1 point behind England in their qualifying group. Ukraine have lost at this stage before while attempting to qualify for the 1998, 2002 and 2010 World Cups, so coach Mikhail Fomenko will be looking to go one better than in previous years.
While Ukraine may not boast similar house hold names to the French, they do have a strong, disciplined squad but are prone to run out of steam, which was abundantly clear in the qualifiers against England. Striker Marko Devic scored a hat trick in their last competive outing against San Marino and he expects a much tougher test on Friday, he said;
“I truly believe in our team, but I’m realistic and I think that France are favourites. We’re not heading into the unknown; we know exactly what we’ll be up against: one of the best teams in the world.”
France on the other hand expect to qualify from this tie, there is no doubt that they have one of the most talented squads in Europe. If they had been paired with any other country bar Spain in the qualifiers, it is very likely they would have already booked their place in Brazil. Real Madrid striker Benzema exuded confidence when he said recently;
“We will qualify, I am sure. There is no choice. At the end, there is the ticket to the World Cup in Brazil – the most beautiful. A World Cup in the land of football.”
It’s likely that most football fans outwith the Ukraine, and possibly Ireland, who still haven’t forgiven (rightly so) Thierry Henry for his handball antics at this stage of the last World Cup, will want France to qualify. They are a hugely talented team and great to watch with attacking flair that is on a par with the best in the world. Whereas most games involving Ukraine are boring dull affairs and they also have a horrible yellow strip.
Although this will be a tricky tie I am in no doubt that France will do enough to make sure the second leg is a formality and book their place among the Worlds elite in Brazil next year. Didier Deschamp was an incredibly successful captain of his national team and there is a real chance that his team will be a good outside bet for the World Cup when it kicks off next summer.