France secured an unlikely comeback to triumph 3-2 on aggregate over 10-man Ukraine in the FIFA World Cup play-off.
Didier Deschamps’ men trailed 2-0 after the first leg in Kiev, but first-half goals from Mamadou Sakho and Karim Benzema levelled the tie on Tuesday before an own goal from Oleh Husyev – which came after Yevhen Khacheridi’s dismissal – booked their spot at Brazil 2014.
It was no less than France deserved after dominating proceedings from start to finish at the Stade de France.
The hosts were in control of the early stages and took the lead when Sahko followed in Franck Ribery’s strike just after the 20-minute mark.
Benzema then doubled their advantage 12 minutes later with a close-range strike that sent the partisan home fans into raptures.
Khacheridi received a red card for a second bookable offence in the 47th minute, before Sakho had another effort that found its way home off Husyev to complete the turnaround 18 minutes from time.
Laurent Koscielny was suspended after being sent off in the first leg so Raphael Varane took his place at the heart of the French defence, while Ukraine’s Oleksandr Kucher also received his marching orders in Kiev and was replaced by Yaroslav Rakitskiy.
The home side started the game at a high tempo, and Andriy Pyatov had to be alert to parry Mathieu Valbuena’s effort after three minutes.
But their early pressure paid off in the 22nd minute. Valbuena’s whipped free-kick fell to Franck Ribery on the edge of the area and, although his low drive was saved well by Pyatov, Sakho slotted home the rebound.
France had the ball in the net again on the half-hour mark when Benzema tapped home only for the Real Madrid striker to be denied by the offside flag, with replays suggesting the assistant’s decision was incorrect.
Deschamps’ men will feel justice was done shortly after, however, when the ball deflected into Benzema’s path and he applied the close-range finish to level the tie at 2-2, despite the fact he appeared to be in an offside position this time around.
But after dominating the opening period, France were nearly caught out on the stroke of half-time as Andriy Yarmolenko had an effort blocked on the line by Mathieu Debuchy.
France’s chances improved soon after the restart when Khacheridi was shown a second yellow card for a late challenge on Ribery.
And they could have gone ahead on aggregate in the 58th minute when Benzema found space on the left-hand side of the box before blazing his effort over the crossbar.
But France did get the breakthrough they were looking for in the 72nd minute. Ribery’s miscued effort found its way to Sakho and the Liverpool defender’s bundled effort went in via Husyev.
Substitute Olivier Giroud almost added a fourth with a back-post header that was saved by Pyatov, but the miss made no difference as France reached their fifth consecutive World Cup finals.
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