Football

5 things to know about the France-Ukraine playoff

PARIS (AP) — France is on the verge of missing its first World Cup in 20 years with no European team having ever qualified through the playoffs after losing the first leg 2-0.

After failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup following a shock home defeat against Bulgaria, Les Bleus lost to Ukraine for the first time in the first leg by a two-goal margin. Here are five things to know ahead of Tuesday's game at the Stade de France.

UNITED NATION

France striker Olivier Giroud wants the whole country to get behind the team and promises not to let them down.

"We're ready to die on the field to get there. We want to show the French people that we're proud to represent France," Giroud said. "There will be 64 million French people behind us. We want to make history. It's a question of pride. We will do it."

The Arsenal striker knows it is ultimately down to each France player to take their responsibility.

"At some point you have to stop talking. We're big and intelligent enough to know what we have to do. It's time to act," he said. "It won't be easy because there'll be a lot of tension and stress. It's the game of the year."

Giroud was given a tough time in Kiev by Ukraine center half Oleksandr Kucher and failed to shine.

"Yes, I am hurt. I want to make up for it. I still have a lot of rage inside me that hopefully I can turn into positive energy," he said. "They were very aggressive and also showed a little bit of nastiness. It's up to us to show a bit of vice sometimes. It's part of the game."

Kucher was sent off at the end of Friday's game and is suspended.

"They replace one soldier with another solider," Giroud said. "But it's true that their number five (Kucher) annoyed me the whole game."

DEFENSIVE DILEMMA

France coach Didier Deschamps must decide who to play at center half with Laurent Koscielny suspended.

The French defense was run ragged in the second half by Roman Zozulya and Andriy Yarmolenko and Koscielny was sent off late on for pushing Oleksandr Kucher in the face and knocking him down.

Deschamps is sweating on the fitness of center half Raphael Varane, who is recovering from swelling on his right knee.

If Varane is unavailable, Deschamps will have to choose between Mamadou Sakho and Bacary Sagna to play alongside Eric Abidal.

Although Sagna is a right back, he has done well as an emergency center half when playing there for Arsenal.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Deschamps stands on the cusp of an unwanted double: failing to qualify for the World Cup as a player and coach.

Twenty years ago, Deschamps dropped to his knees in disbelief at Parc des Princes when Emil Kostadinov scored in the last seconds to send Bulgaria to the World Cup. Requiring just one point from final two home games, Gerard Houllier's side lost both to miss out on a World Cup berth.

"We're obviously not in a good position," Deschamps said. "We have to reverse the trend and believe in this now."

Sports daily L'Equipe increased the pressure on Deschamps by saying he risks joining the ranks of France's "biggest losers."

Harsh, considering he won 103 caps and captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later.

KEEP THE FAITH

Ukraine has never won a playoff to reach a major tournament and goalkeeper Andriy Piatov thinks the team's iron defense will help change that.

Ukraine conceded only four goals in 10 qualifying matches and the back four again proved solid in Kiev.

"The fact that we allow so few goals is an indicator of success," he said. "We are seriously getting ready for this match and believe in our strength."

The defense is likely to be tested far more at Stade de France, where coach Mykhailo Fomenko will be missing Kucher and Artem Fedetsky through suspension.

Shakhtar Donetsk's Yaroslav Rakytsky is likely to fill the void together with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's Vitaliy Mandziuk.

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Fomenko is planning a new strategy to keep France's forwards at bay.

Ukraine closed down France incessantly in the first leg and played the ball up quickly to Zozulya and Yarmolenko, who caused mayhem with their quick feet and movement.

But they are unlikely get so much possession this time and Fomenko is already rethinking his plans.

"When you go to the pharmacy with a special prescription, they take it away from you," he said. "So you must return with a new prescription."

The French media was scathing about the team following a lackluster performance, claiming that France underestimated Ukraine. That sentiment was lost on Fomenko.

"Not at all. We all saw how in the beginning the French didn't allow us to pressure them, so we had to build a new strategy," he said. "I don't think France could've underestimated us. At this level this is impossible."

Associated Press writer Mark Rachkevych in Kiev contributed to this report.

Related Headlines