Make or break for France World Cup hopes
Paris: France are on the brink of missing out on next year`s World Cup in Brazil, unless they can overturn a 2-0 deficit against Ukraine in the return leg of their qualifying play-off on Tuesday.
The game at the Stade de France is make or break for Les Bleus, and comes two decades on from their infamous 2-1 home defeat to Bulgaria when only a draw was required to seal their place at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
Didier Deschamps was part of Gerard Houllier`s team that night at the Parc des Princes, and now the former midfielder will be in the dug-out trying to stop France from missing a major tournament finals for the first time in 20 years.
The French were outfought by an aggressive Ukrainian side in the cold and hostile atmosphere of Kiev on Friday, falling behind to a Roman Zozulia strike in the 61st minute and crucially conceding again eight minutes from the end when Andriy Yarmolenko netted from the spot.
France must now do what no other team has done before and recover from a two-goal first-leg defeat in a European play-off to make it to the World Cup, and Deschamps - who lifted the trophy as a player in 1998 and has since gone on to enjoy considerable success as a coach at club level - is putting his reputation on the line.
His tactical choices in Kiev have been criticised by the French media, with his decision to play Samir Nasri in a central playmaking role instead of Mathieu Valbuena in particular failing to pay off.
His side could not cope with the physical, counter-attacking approach of the Ukrainians, with the heavily marked Franck Ribery unable to make an impression.
A significant improvement is required on Tuesday, but Deschamps was doing his best to remain upbeat on Sunday.
"We got a bit of a slap in the face (in Kiev) but now we have a chance to turn things around," he said. "The possibility is a real one. It doesn`t matter if it`s a small chance, medium-sized or large.
"We need to produce a top-level performance, an extraordinary one. Time is not on our side (but) the first person who believes is me."
Deschamps will have to do without Laurent Koscielny on Tuesday after the Arsenal centre-back - who conceded the penalty which led to the second goal - was sent off following a late clash with Oleksandr Kucher, who also saw red at the end of the game.
However, he has stated that Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane should be available after missing the first leg due to a knee problem.
The absence of Kucher will be welcomed by France striker Olivier Giroud, who struggled against the Ukrainian centre-back but who did not hold back when speaking of his hopes for the second leg.
"We are ready to die on the pitch to get there," he said. "Those are big words but we want to show that we are proud to represent France and the French people.
"I still can`t imagine France missing the World Cup."
Despite that, and with Uruguay set to beat Jordan in their play-off, there is a very real prospect that France will be the only previous winners of the World Cup to miss out on qualifying for Brazil.
And if that does prove to be the case, credit will be due to Ukraine.
They have improved greatly since Mikhail Fomenko took over as coach and are on a run of 12 games without defeat as well as eight matches without even conceding a goal.
"Not conceding an away goal means we can play the way we prefer - on the counter-attack - in the second leg," said right-back Artim Fedetskiy, who along with Kucher will be suspended for the return as Ukraine look to seal a place at the World Cup for the second time.
In 2006, a Ukraine side featuring Andriy Shevchenko reached the last eight in Germany, losing 3-0 to an Italy side that went on to beat the French on penalties in the final.
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