Current World Champions France will be aiming to kick-start their FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers campaign strongly when they host Ukraine this week.

The first international break of the calendar is upon us and teams in Europe will kick off on the Road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup with the Qualifiers getting underway this week. And reigning World Champions will be in action in Group D as they play hosts to Ukraine at Stade de France on Wednesday night.

Part of a group that seems fairly straightforward with the likes of Finland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, France go into the qualifying campaign as the favourites to emerge as group winners. And they will be aiming to live up to that tag this week, by building upon their victories against Portugal and Sweden in the UEFA Nations League last November.

Ukraine, meanwhile, are without a win since their shock 1-0 triumph over Spain last October. Following that match, Andriy Shevchenko’s men have fallen to consecutive defeats to Poland (friendly), Germany and Switzerland with the latter two coming in the UEFA Nations League. They will be hoping to put up a strong fight and come away with at least a point against the Les Bleus.

The last time these two teams met was in October 2020, when a ruthless France side thrashed an injury and COVID-hit Ukraine outfit 7-1 at the very same venue where they will battle on Wednesday. And ahead of their latest fixture, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

France

There are no major surprises with respect to the squad that manager Didier Deschamps has picked up for the current set of fixtures. All the usual suspects are present while there are some pleasant comebacks for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur’s Tanguy Ndombele and Anthony Martial of Manchester United, who will want to make the most of any opportunity that comes their way ahead of the Euros.

Also making a return are Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar, who haven’t been involved in the national team picture for almost two years now. The likes of Steven Nzonzi, Corentin Tolisso, Dayot Upamecano and AC Milan’s Theo Hernandez are missing from the 26-man roster.

Captain Hugo Lloris will be the undisputed starter in goal with Deschamps likely to set his team up in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation in front of the goalkeeper. In such a system, the Bayern Munich full-back duo of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez will have the onus of providing width during the attacking phases while Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe start as the centre-backs.

N’Golo Kante is a certainty at the base of the midfield for France with the duo of Ndombele and Paul Pogba likely to flank him from where they will be tasked with providing the forward thrust. Given that the latter has recently returned from an injury, he is unlikely to play the full game, with Adrien Rabiot likely to get some playing time at some stage.

Antoine Griezmann, who seems to have rediscovered his form at Barcelona, will play in the hole behind the two strikers who ought to Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe.

Probable Lineup (4-1-2-1-2): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Hernandez; Kante; Pogba, Ndombele; Griezmann; Mbappe, Giroud

Ukraine

Out of the initial 33-man squad called up for the qualifiers by Andriy Shevchenko, five players have had to drop out. Artem Besedin, Viktor Tsygankov, Taras Stepanenko all withdrew due to injury problems while Igor Kharatin and Viktor Kornienko tested positive for coronavirus and will not play a part. Uncapped striker Artem Dobvyk has earned a call-up.

Shevchenko will be hoping to avoid a similar fate as the last time these two times met and could, thus, set his team up with a more defensive outlook on Wednesday night. Captain and veteran goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov should start ahead of Real Madrid’s Andriy Lunin while Mykola Matvienko and Serhiy Kryvtsov form the centre-back pairing.

Oleksandr Karavayev and Eduard Sobol ought to be the two full-backs on the right and left sides respectively. The duo is likely to stay back and help out the centre-backs rather than looking to attack down the flanks.

Serhiy Sydorchuk will provide further screening to the defence from the holding midfield role, with support coming from Manchester City star Oleksandr Zinchenko, who will also look to drive forward with the ball when the opportunity presents itself. Ruslan Malinovskyi will occupy the third slot in the middle of the park.

West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko, who is the top-scorer for Ukraine in the current squad called up, should get the nod on the right flank while Oleksandr Zubkov starts on the left. Roman Yaremchuk, who has six goals in 19 international appearances, should lead the line for Ukraine.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Pyatov; Karavayev, Krytsov, Matvienko, Sobol; Malinovskyi, Sydorchuk, Zinchenko; Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk, Zubkov

Key Stats

  • This will be the 11th meeting between France and Ukraine. Six out of the previous ten encounters have been won by France while Ukraine have picked up just one win (D3).
  • France have won both of their last two meetings with Ukraine with an aggregate scoreline of 10-1.
  • In their ten previous meetings, France have kept six clean sheets while Ukraine have managed just two.
  • France managed to win six of the eight fixtures that they played in 2020, losing just one (D1).
  • Ukraine, on the other hand, won just two of their eight years in the last year, losing the remaining six, although the wins did come against strong opposition in Switzerland and Spain.

Player to Watch

Paul Pogba

Embed from Getty Images

It has been another strange season for Paul Pogba at Manchester United. While he showed signs of form since the turn of the year, an injury in February meant he missed a string of games before returning to action only last week. The Frenchman has looked good in his couple of matches back but is yet to hit peak fitness. So, it will be interesting to see how he fares in the upcoming games.

With his future at the club level unclear and a spot in the Euros at stake, the 28-year-old will undoubtedly be keen on making a strong impression. And given that he more often than not steps up and delivers for the national team on a consistent basis, one can expect Pogba to play a key role in helping France see through Ukraine’s challenge this week.

Prediction

France 2-0 Ukraine

Ukraine, unlike the last time they played France, have a more competitive squad with almost all of Andriy Shevchenko’s first-choice players available. However, the same goes for France as well, who have one of the strongest squads on paper and with a number of their top players such as N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann in good form. An easy win for the World Champions should be the outcome of the game on Wednesday.

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