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FIFA World Cup Europe Play-Off Preview: Ukraine v France

Didier Deschamps is keen to avoid a repeat of history when France travel to Ukraine for the first leg of their FIFA World Cup play-off.

The national team coach was part of the France team that lost 2-1 to Bulgaria at the Parc des Princes in November 1993, a result that ended France’s hopes of securing their berth at the 1994 World Cup under the stewardship of Gerard Houllier.

Deschamps would go on to captain France to World Cup glory on home soil in 1998, and they have qualified for each of the three tournaments since then – including 2006, when they finished runners-up to Italy.

But the 45-year-old admits he is still haunted by their failure 20 years ago, and is focused on ensuring France reach Brazil next year.

“It may have been 20 years ago but it still sticks in my mind,” he said. “I don’t want to experience that again.

“We’re playing two games in five days with no points at stake. Our goal is crystal clear – to qualify for the World Cup.”

France travel to Kiev for the first leg on Friday, before the return encounter at the Stade de France on November 19.

Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra is included in the squad despite a recent media outburst in which he labelled World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu and three other commentators as “tramps”.

There are no other surprises, with Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery likely to be relied upon to provide the attacking impetus after scoring four goals in his last three internationals.

France will start as favourites for the encounter but face a difficult task against a Ukraine side that are undefeated in 11 matches, with 10 of those under the guidance of Mikhail Fomenko, who took charge in December 2012.

Part of their success is down to a solid defence, with Ukraine racking up seven straight clean sheets.

Ukraine had to settle for a play-off spot in Group H after finishing runners-up to England and, like France in 1994, have been subject to past World Cup heartbreak.

Play-off defeats to Croatia, Germany and Greece denied them from reaching the World Cup in 1998, 2002 and 2010.

But Fomenko is unperturbed by history as he looks to take his country to the World Cup for the first time since 2006.

“Only journalists and fans are speaking about those matches. My team try not to think about what happened before,” he said.

Wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka are Ukraine’s primary attacking threats, with the former having scored four times in the group stages.

Wed 13 November, 2013
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