CLAIREFONTAINE, France (AP) — Coach Didier Deschamps has urged his France team to play without fear and think only of getting a victory away to Ukraine in the first match of their World Cup qualifier on Friday.
France fumbled its way through the playoffs four years ago, edging past Ireland after a nerve-shredding game at Stade de France was settled by a controversial goal as Thierry Henry handled the ball before crossing it to scorer William Gallas.
Deschamps wants a far more positive approach this time around and has no intention of settling for a draw. "There's no place for doubt or uncertainty," Deschamps said Monday at France's training camp. "We'll go there with the intention of getting the best result possible. It's important to score away, given the fact we're at home for the return match. They're not an easy team to move about, but I hope we force them to defend."
The message has been received loud and clear. "We can't go over there and play timidly, or tell ourselves there's a second match to come," winger Franck Ribery said. "We've got the team to go and get a result there. I'm not scared of anything."
In a bid to stamp out complacency or over-confidence, Deschamps refuted the notion that his team had been given an easy draw by avoiding Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal team or Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden side.
"We could have drawn a team that's stronger on paper. But we're not up against a team of tourists. They're on a good run of form, and they concede few goals," Deschamps said. "They have less (standout) individuals than Portugal, but they play well collectively."
He wants a full-blooded committed performance against a team that has 10 players who risk missing the return match in Paris four days later if they pick up a yellow card. "All of the players are competitors and you feed off competition. Nervousness and anxiety won't affect our performance," Deschamps said. "The highest level is about aggression and intensity, physical commitment. You can't walk on your tiptoes. It's exciting, there's adrenalin and you have to take that in a positive way. You can't think 'if, if, if.' France will need a strong performance to qualify."
France has a difficult relationship with its fans, particularly when it plays at home — where the notoriously hard-to-please Parisian crowd often jeers the players — but Deschamps is confident of their full backing this time.
"There'll be many fans in Ukraine from what I've heard and the Stade de France will be full," he said. "We could have filled more than the 80,000 places. We'll need their support." France will stick with one center forward, with the No.9 jersey going to either Olivier Giroud or Karim Benzema.
Giroud's form has dipped slightly recently — he was not at his best in Arsenal's 1-0 defeat away to Manchester United on Sunday — while Benzema's has picked up and he is scoring and creating goals for Real Madrid.
However, Deschamps hinted that he may stick with Giroud. "When looking at form of the moment, I don't just take the last match into account," he said. "The last three or four give you a fairer picture of the players' form."
Most of the France squad are playing well for their clubs, although experienced defender Eric Abidal is struggling with Monaco, meaning that Deschamps must choose between him and Real Madrid's Raphael Varane to play alongside Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny.
France's main threat comes from Ribery, and Deschamps is counting on him to continue the superb form for club and country that has seen him emerge as a genuine contender to win the Golden Ball. "He's a very imporant player for us. Obviously he is one of our weapons, but not the only one," Deschamps said. "They'll watch him a bit more which can leave a bit more space for the players around him."