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France aiming to erase memories of 1993

Updated: 2013-11-15 07:43
By Reuters in France ( China Daily)

France needs to play without fear in its World Cup playoff against Ukraine to avoid the fate that befell the team 20 years ago when a last-gasp home defeat by Bulgaria cost it a place at the 1994 finals.

That was the last time France failed to qualify for a major tournament, and Didier Deschamp's men hope Friday's first leg in Ukraine gives them the opportunity to go into the return at Stade de France in a calm state of mind.

Four years ago France had to rely on Thierry Henry's infamous hand ball to see off Ireland in a World Cup playoff, and it is determined not to cut it that close this time.

"We need a good away result so we can deal with the return leg," said Franck Ribery, who has scored six and set up nine of France's past 24 goals.

"These (playoff) games are special. They are surrounded by difficult context. We need to play without pressure. We should not be afraid," he said.

The loss to Bulgaria in a group game on Nov 17, 1993, when Emil Kostadinov's last-minute goal earned a 2-1 win at Parc des Princes, will never be forgotten by the French.

Deschamps played in that match and probably had that evening in mind when he locked down France's Clairefontaine training center from Tuesday.

"We must avoid the febrility and anxiety that can harm our performance," he said.

France aiming to erase memories of 1993

The younger players, however, are less bothered by the ghosts of that match.

"France vs Bulgaria? No, it doesn't remind me of anything," said Paul Pogba, who was eight months old when David Ginola's poor free kick led to Kostadinov's goal.

"I don't think about it for a minute," said midfielder Blaise Matuidi.

Ukraine will also be looking to forget the past as it participates in a fourth World Cup playoff tie, having failed in its three previous attempts.

"We are trying to keep our players away from the past. To know the reasons for those failures, you had to be there," said Ukraine coach Mykhaylo Fomenko.

Ukraine failed to qualify for the World Cup finals via the playoffs in 1998, 2002 and 2010, being knocked out by Croatia, Germany and Greece respectively.

An elimination against Slovenia in a Euro 2000 playoff makes the streak even more miserable.

Eight Ukraine players go into the home game with the threat of missing the return leg in Paris if they are booked.

"Football gets more and more aggressive, resulting in a good deal of yellow cards in games like this," said Fomenko.

"I discuss this issue with players, but sometimes it is hard to resist your emotions," said the coach, who hinted he knows how to defeat France, a team Ukraine has never beaten in seven games.

"Of course I have the recipe," he said.

France, like Ukraine, should be at full strength with Karim Benzema having rediscovered his scoring touch with two goals in the past two games - a 6-0 friendly win over Australia and a 3-0 victory against Finland in its final World Cup qualifier.

The only concern could be in central defense, with Eric Abidal having looked a bit off the pace lately in Ligue 1, especially as Ukraine likes to counter attack.

(China Daily 11/15/2013 page24)

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