NSK Olimpiyskiy, kiev
15 November, 19:45 BST
Ukraine host France at Kiev in the first leg of a highly anticipated World Cup qualifier fixture. France have had the upper hand in the meetings between these two sides recently, winning four of their last five matches. The last meeting between these two sides was in the European Championships in 2012. France won that match 2-0 with goals from Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye. But this is a rejuvenated Ukraine side under their new manager Mykhaylo Fomenko and Les Blues will have to be at their best to get a positive result.
Team News and tactics
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 the 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 11 match unbeaten streak at the moment and are coming into this game on the back of a massive 8-0 victory against San Marino in which Devic scored a wonderful hat-trick. Perhaps more important than the goals against a lowly San Marino side was the fact that it was their ninth clean sheet in their last 11 matches.
Mykhaylo Fomenko experimented with his formation against San Marino and fielded a 4-2-2-2 formation with Devic and Seleznev upfront, but he will switch back to a 4-2-3-1 formation for this game. Fomenko has a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of this game and is likely to make four changes to the side that he fielded against San Marino in their last game.
Rakitskiy and Khacheridi will resume their partnership at the center of the defence, although there is also a chance of him starting the experienced Kucher in this big game ahead of Rakitskiy. Fedetskiy will start at the right back with Shevchuk retaining his place on the opposite side. Experienced midfielder Tymoshchuk will provide the steel in the midfield alongside Ruslan Rotan. These two will protect the back four and are important part of their defensive organisation.
Ukraine’s biggest threat in attack are their two wingers – Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka. The two of them are among the most exciting wingers in Europe when on form and will surely provide the French fullbacks lot to worry about. Konoplyanka is just 24-years-old and has attracted a lot of attention for his performances for Ukraine. He plays as an inverted winger on the left and drifts in to shoot with his right. Zozulya will lead the line upfront with Edmar Halovskyi playing behind him. Gusev will start from the bench and will provide a good option if they need to chase the game.
Fomenko is proving to be shrewd tactician and most of the defensive solidarity at the back is due to the organisation that he has brought into his side. While defending Ukraine’s formation changes to 4-4-2 as they drop deep and defend with two banks of four. Both the wingers work hard to help out the full backs, while Edmar and Zozulya press from the front.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Pyatov (GK); Fedetskiy, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk; Tymoshchuk, Rotan; Yarmolenko, Edmar Halovskyi, Konoplyanka; Zozulya
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.
France are on a five match unbeaten streak with their last defeat coming in a friendly against Brazil back in June. Didier Deschamps’ men are coming into this fixture on the back of a 3-0 win over Finland at home in their last qualification fixture. Ribery and Benzema got on the score-sheet in the game, although this game was more of a dead rubber.
Deschamps has no major injuries to contend with ahead of this game and is unlikely to make any changes to the strong side he fielded against Finland. Deschamps has a lot of options at the full-back spot, but he will stick with Debuchy and Evra for this game. The Newcastle United defender has been in fine form this season and will get the nod ahead of Sagna. Abidal and Koscielny will retain their places at the center of the defence.
Juventus midfielder Pogba has been in brilliant form off late and will partner Matuidi in the pivot ahead of the defence. The front four nearly picks itself for France on present form. Olivier Giroud, who has been in amazing form for Arsenal, will lead the line and will once again be preferred over Benzema. Giroud will be supported by Nasri, Valbuena and France’s main man – Franck Ribery.
France will have to be patient to break down the organized Ukraine defence, while their biggest test will be how well they contain Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka on the wings. Debuchy and Evra will need defensive help from both Ribery and Nasri in this game.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Lloris (GK); Debuchy, Koscielny, Abidal, Evra; Pogba, Matuidi; Nasri, Valbuena, Ribery; Giroud
Players to watch out for: Yevheniy Konoplyanka (Ukraine); Paul Pogba(France)
Prediction: Ukraine 1-1 France