Stade de France, Paris
19 November, 20:00 BST
France host Ukraine in the all-important second leg of the World Cup qualifier fixture at Stade de France tonight. Ukraine put up a wonderful performance in the first leg at home and took a two goal lead as Roman Zozulya and Andriy Yarmolenko got on the score-sheet in the second half. France have left themselves a lot to do in the second leg and at this point Mikhail Fomenko’s men are the favourites to go through.
Interestingly, French media l’Equipe organised a poll to gauge the public opinion of the French national team and 84% have given up on the side, while 61% think Les Blues won’t qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. While the odds are surely stacked against them, but France do have a good record at home against Ukraine. The last meeting between these two sides in France ended in a 2-0 victory for the home side in 2007 as Frank Ribery and Nicklas Anelka scored the goals.
Team News and tactics
France had a fairly good qualification campaign but unfortunately they had to compete with world champions Spain. They made a good start to their qualification campaign with wins against Finland and Belarus, but dropped seven points in their next four matches. Eventually they finished second behind Spain and will now have to go through this play-off in order to reach the World Cup.
Deschamps will be without Laurent Koscielny in this game after the Arsenal defender was sent off in the first leg. Other than Koscielny, Deschamps has a fully fit squad to choose from. There were some concerns about the fitness of Raphael Varane, but the Real Madrid center-back has recovered from his injury quicker than expected and will replace Koscielny at the center of the defence.
Deschamps is expected to make a lot of changes to the side he fielded in the first leg. Samir Nasri has received a lot of criticism for his performance in Ukraine, but he will retain his place in the side. Instead Loic Remy, who was a surprise starter in the last game, will be replaced by Mathieu Valbuena. His addition will certainly add a lot of creative spark to the side in the final third. Valbuena will start behind Olivier Giroud, who also looked a bit tired in the first leg and will need to improve his performance in this game.
Frank Ribery will start on the left and the Bayern Munich midfielder will once again be the key to France’s hope of making their way back into this tie. Ribery was kept quiet by Ukraine in the first leg and Deschamps has already pointed out the excessive fouling that was done against him. Valbuena’s inclusion might allow Ribery a bit of space in the match.
Pogba will retain his place in the center of the midfield, but Matuidi is likely to be replaced by Newcastle United star Yohan Cabaye. France will need to look for goals from the start and hence the need to start a more attacking midfielder in Cabaye over Matuidi. He will be crucial in building up play from the back and also adds a more goal threat to the midfield. Raphael Varane will replace Koscielny in the center of the defence and he will partner Abidal. Evra, Debuchy and Lloris will retain their place at the back.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Lloris (GK); Debuchy, Varane, Abidal, Evra; Pogba,Cabaye; Nasri, Valbuena, Ribery; Giroud
Ukraine were in a fairly tough group and started their qualification campaign poorly – dropping points in their opening three fixtures. But their fortunes turned around after the arrival of Fomenko and they managed to win six of their next seven fixtures. Eventually Ukraine finished second behind England and could have even won the group had they not drawn their match against the Three Lions.
Ukraine are on a 12 match unbeaten streak at the moment. Mykhaylo Fomenko has continued his good work with Ukraine. Since his arrival Ukraine have scored 34 goals in 12 matches and conceded only 2. Fomenko’s men have now kept 10 clean sheets (now 8th in a row) during this period. He bought along a defensive organisation which was the side lacked earlier. He uses a very flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, which changes to a 4-4-2 while defending as they form two banks of four, and changes to a 4-2-2-2 formation while attacking the opponent.
Yevheniy Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko are perhaps the most key players in Fomenko’s side. Ukraine can boast of having two of the most talented young wingers in Europe currently. They also contribute a lot defensively and help out their full-backs. The pace and directness of these two makes Ukraine a potent counter-attacking unit.
But Fomenko will have to make a few changes to the defence ahead of this game. Olexandr Kucher and Artem Fedetskiy are both suspended for this match and this could be a cause for worry as they look to defend their lead. Kucher, who was dismissed in the last game, will be replaced by Yaroslav Rakitskiy at the center of the defence, while Fedetskiy will be replaced by Vitaliy Mandzyuk at the right back.
There won’t be any other change to the side that was fielded in the first leg and Roman Zozulya, who caused a lot of problem to the French defence with his hold-up play, ability to win physical battles and win fouls, will once again be the main goal threat upfront. Ukraine were successful with their physical approach against France in the last game, Fomenko indicated that he needed a different approach in this game in the post-match press conference.
Ukraine will look to drop deep and sit back to defend their two goal advantage, while looking to exploit the gaps on the break through their pacy wingers.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Pyatov (GK);Mandzyuk, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk; Stepanenko, Rotan; Yarmolenko, Edmar, Konoplyanka; Zozulya
Players to watch out for: Mathieu Valbuena (France); Yevheniy Konoplyanka (Ukraine)
Prediction: France 1-1 Ukraine