There is usually always one major footballing nation that misses out on an international tournament after failing to qualify.
Qualification for next year’s World Cup has raised the very possibility of France not making it to the big event.
The French face a 2-0 deficit going into tonight’s second leg play-off game against Ukraine in Paris. Didier Deschamps team will have to produce a top performance if they are to make it to Brazil 2014.
It is not a surprise that France have struggled to qualify for the World Cup, given the fact that Les Bleu’s were paired with world and European champions Spain in group qualification. As expected the Spanish won the group and qualified automatically.
Then France was paired with Ukraine, runners-up in England’s group, in the World Cup play-offs. When the draw was made I think it is fair to say that France were pretty confident that they would qualify and were installed as favourites for the tie.
However, the first leg of the play-off between the pair in Ukraine was a nightmare for the visitors. The first hour of the game was goalless and France seemed comfortable until the opening goal arrived on 61 minutes through Roman Zozulya.
Worse was to follow as Andriy Yarmolenko doubled the home sides lead in the 83rd minute and Arsenal centre-back Laurent Koscielny was given his marching orders in stoppage-time. Ukraine’s Olexander Kucher was also dismissed in injury-time.
It will take some recovery and performance in the second leg for France to make it to next year’s World Cup. They have dug themselves into a hole that will be very difficult to get out of. France have not failed to qualify for a major tournament in nearly 20 years, but they are now on the brink.
It is incredible to think that a team with the number of quality players in it as France could fail to qualify for the World Cup. In Hugo Lloris France have one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League.
Then there is Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, who currently seems to be enjoying his best year in football and is a contender for the Ballon d’Or. Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud is enjoying one of his most consistent seasons and Karim Benzema has scored four goals in as many appearances at club level for Real Madrid.
The French squad is also full of players who are supposedly playing at the top level such as Arsenal centre-back Laurent Koscielny, Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and Manchester City’s mercurial playmaker Samir Nasri.
Their squad list is quite an impressive read. If France fail to qualify for the World Cup then boss Didier Deschamps could very well be out of a job. Coming second to Spain is one thing, but failing to turn over Ukraine in a play-off is a complete different thing.
The mood amongst the French fans seems to be very gloomy. It seems the majority do not believe that their national team will get the result that they require to make it to next year’s World Cup finals.
That mood is understandable considering that France were favourites to progress from their play-off and were expected to be at next year’s tournament.
Ukraine are no pushovers, as England found out in qualification. However, if France wants to be amongst the top footballing nations again they have to defeat teams like Ukraine. Ukraine are distinctly average, but produced a really good performance in the first leg.
Ukraine are likely to stay solid in the second leg and hit the French on the counter-attack. The likes of Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka are both pretty speedy players, who will help the visitors get up the pitch when needed.
If France believes that they can just turn up and defeat the Ukrainians easily then they will have to think again. If the French are to gain the big win that they need then they will need to put in a big performance in tonight’s clash.
France are heavy favourites to claim victory in this game at 4/9, while Ukraine are 8/1 and the draw is 7/2. France does look good for a victory in this clash, but do not underestimate the Ukrainians. France should shade this game though, whether they will do enough to make it to the World Cup remains to be seen.
Could France really fail to qualify for the World Cup?