French football celebrates as Les Bleus book safe passage to Brazil

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Updated: November 21, 2013
France qualify for 2014 World Cup

Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

After a dramatic 3-0 triumph over Ukraine at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday night, Didier Deschamps’ France finally secured safe passage to next year’s World Cup. Les Bleus had the unenviable task of having to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit, however, a double from Mamadou Sakho and one from Karim Benzema ensured the 1998 World Cup winners will be jetting to Brazil for the biggest party in football.

Huge amounts of negativity and pessimism descended onto the footballing scene in France after the initial loss in Ukraine. However, very few would have predicted the way in which the French turned the tie on it’s head.

A disastrous evening in Eastern Europe had alarm bells ringing at the French Football Federation after goals from Roman Zozulya and Andriy Yarmalenko condemned France to an embarrassing loss and their misery was compounded further after Laurent Koscielny’s late dismissal.

The French media branded the current squad as the worst in its history and slated their inability to play as a team as the individualism and egos of certain players hindered a hugely talented crop of players. L’Equipe journalist, Vincent Duluc, wittingly stated: “Their [the French team’s] best chance of seeing Rio is sitting next to [Rio] Mavuba at breakfast.”

Failure to qualify for the world cup in Brazil would be a huge disappointment and many would draw comparisons to the major disappointments and dismal performances of 2002 and 2010.

Players such as Samir Nasri, Patrice Evra and Eric Abidal have hardly covered themselves in glory in terms of representing their country. Evra’s latest altercation with French football came as he labelled renowned journalist Pierre Menes and former player Bixente Lizerazu as “tramps”. Many felt that there was a degree of inevitability surrounding France’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil, but Zinedine Zidane was optimistic, stating: “You came to ask me questions about the France team, so I’ll get up and leave. We all know they will qualify.”

Didier Deschamps position as head coach of France rested on the result at the Stade de France and to his credit, selected a positive eleven that would almost certainly cause Ukraine real problems. As the players lined up for the national anthem, an intense atmosphere took over as the crowd joined in and the Marseillaise rang around the stadium.

The players were ready for the fight on the field and started extremely brightly. France dominated possession and looked impressive in all areas of the pitch. Mathieu Valbuena was key in the link up play between the midfield and Karim Benzema, while Franck Ribery showcased his talent as Vitaly Mandziuk wasn’t given a moments rest on the right hand side of defence.

The midfield worked in tandem with one another. Yohan Cabaye sat deep and dictated the tempo of the game. The Newcastle midfielder played a number of exquisite passes as well as being heavily involved in France’s second goal of the evening. Blaise Matuidi’s work rate was second to none and Paul Pogba was a pillar of strength in the middle, breaking into the final third on a regular basis.

From a defensive perspective, France were solid. Mathieu Debuchy blocked a goal-bound effort from Yarmalenko shortly before the interval. Raphael Varane looked like a seasoned professional while Mahamadou Sakho’s goal capped what was an unforgettable evening for the Liverpool star, picking up the Man of the Match award for a fine display. Yarmalenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka were kept quiet all night thanks to the defensive qualities of Debuchy and Evra, who were just as impressive going forward.

Mathieu Valbuena’s set pieces caused Ukraine major problems and Sakho’s goal, France’s first, came courtesy of a delivery from the diminutive Marseille playmaker. After making the save, Pyatov was unable to stop the effort from the former PSG man, who was at the far post to tap in from close range.

The crowd, with their flags on show, raised to their feet to applaud the goal and more importantly, voice their appreciation of a team that were, somewhat uncharacteristically, playing superbly and with unity. They continued to create chances and a Benzema goal was chalked off after he was adjudged to have been offside. Replays, however, suggested otherwise and the striker was unlucky not to get France’s second.

Moments later, a deflected shot from Cabaye made its way through a crowd of players and the Real Madrid forward tucked the ball into the net past Pyatov to get that all important second. Despite being offside this time around, the flag stayed down and the goal counted.

At half time, the crowd stood to applaud the display and the fight and determination that they had witnessed. They had played with an intensity and a desire that had been lacking in the squad since they lifted the trophy back in 1998 at this very ground.

France began the second half in a similar fashion to the first. Ribery’s run at the defence on the left wing left defenders out of place and having hurdled one tackle, was brought down by Yevhen Khacheridi who had previously been booked and was given his marching orders.

Although the task was made easier by the red card shown to the defender, Ukraine were sitting back and were digging in to prevent a french third. However, on the 71st minute, a deflected shot from Mathieu Debuchy found its way into the net off of Gusev and wild celebrations ensued. France had turned the tie around and they held on comfortably until the final whistle.

Scenes of pure jubilation unfolded and a number of players hurled Didier Deschamps into the air. The former Marseille and Monaco coach, as result of qualifying for the world cup, earned a contract extension to stay on as boss until 2016. The players linked arms and jumped up and down in celebration. Acknowledging the role that the crowd had played in generating such a fantastic atmosphere, they headed over to the stands to applaud the effort of the french public.

The team had answered their critics and after L’Equipe’s headline of “Do It” in Monday’s papers, they could categorically say that they certainly had done it. The following day, the headline of the most popular french sport paper read, “Respect”. A togetherness not often associated with France and a hearty performance on the field answered any questions surrounding their ambitions and averted any embarrassment of failing to qualify for such an important tournament.

Although replicating such a display against tougher opposition in Rio will be difficult, the french showed that they are capable of playing as a team and that achieving success is not as impossible as first feared. The events of Tuesday night are sure to give a glimmer of hope surrounding the future of the French national team.

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