Les Bleus on the ropes after 2-0 shock loss
Updated: 2013-11-17 07:06
By Reuters in Kiev (China Daily)
Ukraine poised to make second Cup appearance following home victory
Lackluster France faces the embarrassing prospect of missing out on a major tournament for the first time in 20 years after it lost 2-0 away to Ukraine in the first leg of its World Cup playoff tie on Friday.
Each team picked up a red card as Les Bleus, who last missed a major competition when they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals, succumbed to Roman Zozulya's goal shortly after the hour and Andriy Yarmolenko's 82nd minute penalty.
France's Laurent Koscielny and the home side's Oleksandr Kucher were sent off in injury time ahead of the return leg at the Stade de France on Tuesday when Ukraine will start as favorite to secure its second World Cup appearance.
France - World Cup winner in 1998 - barely had a chance apart from a Samir Nasri effort and was shaken throughout by a bold Ukraine side, which reached the Cup quarterfinals in 2006.
"Opening the scoring gave them more strength and we made a mistake on the penalty," France coach Didier Deschamps said.
"It is obviously a very bad result. We have to believe (we can go through) but Ukraine are the team in the best position to qualify," he said.
"We still have 90 minutes at home."
Deschamps, on the pitch when the red-faced Les Bleus failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup after a 2-1 last-minute defeat against Bulgaria in 1993, had opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Olivier Giroud up front and Karim Benzema on the bench.
The visitors tried to keep possession but Ukraine was the more dangerous side and France goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, who started the game 12 days after suffering a concussion, made his first block from Yarmolenko's crossed shot in the seventh minute.
Ukraine also came close on the half hour when Edmar's diving header from Ruslan Rotan's cross went wide after another nice move from the host.
FIFA Ballon d'Or hopeful Franck Ribery was closely marked as Les Bleus failed to create clear-cut chances and at the back their weak spot was the left side with centerhalf Eric Abidal and fullback Patrice Evra struggling to cope with Yarmolenko's pace.
In the 61st minute, Zozulya squeezed his shot just under Hugo Lloris from Edmar's touch to put the home side ahead.
Four minutes later, France almost hit back, but Nasri, in a perfect position, shot straight at Andriy Pyatov. Olivier Giroud, who failed to muster a chance, was substituted for Karim Benzema 20 minutes from time.
But it was Ukraine which scored again when Yarmolenko converted a penalty after Koscielny fouled Zozula in the box.
Instead of playing conservatively in the closing stages, Mykhailo Fomenko's side continued to push hard and that resulted in Koscielny's misdemeanor in added time as the Arsenal centerback slapped Kucher in the face.
He was shown a straight red card and will miss the return leg, with Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho set to be paired with Abidal at the Stade de France as Raphael Varane has been nursing a knee injury all week.
Ukraine will be without Kucher, who was sent off after picking up a second yellow card five minutes into stoppage time for a foul on Ribery.
Fellow defender Artem Fedetskiy will also miss Tuesday's game in Paris after being booked in the second half.
Ukraine's Roman Zozulya (front) celebrates his goal with teammates during their World Cup qualifying first leg playoff match against France at the Olympic stadium in Kiev on Friday. Konstantin Chernichkin / Reuters
(China Daily 11/17/2013 page7)