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France face World Cup exit after Ukraine loss

AFP/The Local · 15 Nov 2013, 22:58

Published: 15 Nov 2013 22:58 GMT+01:00

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France are in serious danger of missing out on the World Cup finals for the first time in two decades after losing 2-0 to Ukraine in Kiev in their play-off first leg on Friday.

Roman Zozulia gave the home side a deserved lead in the 61st minute and Andriy Yarmolenko made it 2-0 from the penalty spot with eight minutes left after Laurent Koscielny had brought down Zozulia inside the area.

Arsenal defender Koscielny was then sent off following a clash with Oleksandr Kucher at the death, before the Ukrainian defender was also dismissed as tensions between the two teams spilled over.

Nevertheless, Ukraine were worthy of their win and, having denied France an away goal, can now consider themselves strong favourites to go through to their second World Cup finals.

France, meanwhile, run the very real risk of missing a major tournament finals for the first time since the 1994 World Cup in the United States unless they can turn the tie around at home next Tuesday.

It was a hostile environment for France, in front of a boisterous home crowd at the 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium in Kiev and in temperatures as low as two degrees.

Didier Deschamps' side showed just one change to the team that had beaten Finland 3-0 in the final game in their qualifying group last month, with Mathieu Valbuena being replaced by Loic Remy in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Meanwhile, there were no surprises in Ukraine coach Mikhail Fomenko's team, with all eyes on the trickery of Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka on the wings.

France won 2-0 when the countries last met in Donetsk during Euro 2012, but a repeat scoreline always appeared unlikely with Ukraine having improved considerably since Fomenko took over as coach at the end of last year.

That saw them finish just one point behind England in their qualifying group, which they came through conceding only four goals.

Such defensive solidity was evident on Friday, as Ukraine strangled the life out of a France side fresh from scoring 13 goals in their last three outings.

The visitors started well enough, but the closest they came to scoring in the opening period was when a Franck Ribery cutback was turned behind by Kucher before Olivier Giroud could get to it.

Ukraine defended in numbers and sought to hit France on the break, and they needed almost half an hour to create a chance of note, Brazilian-born midfielder Edmar throwing himself at a cross from the right by captain Ruslan Rotan but heading wide.

Konoplyanka then had an effort deflected behind by Mathieu Debuchy following lovely build-up play between Yarmolenko and Edmar, but the warning signs were there for France and they eventually fell behind just after the hour mark.

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Ukraine built the play neatly cutting in from the left flank before Edmar laid the ball off for Zozulia, the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk forward holding off Debuchy and getting enough on his shot to beat Hugo Lloris.

France might have drawn level when Ribery played in Samir Nasri, but the Manchester City man's shot was saved by Andriy Pyatov, and Ukraine then felt they should have had a penalty when Zozulia went down under an Eric Abidal challenge inside the area.

That one wasn't given by the Turkish referee, but he did point to the spot when Koscielny clumsily brought down Zozulia nine minutes from time.

Yarmolenko stepped up, his penalty just crossing the line after being touched up and onto the bar by Lloris.

But that was not the end of the nightmare for France, with Koscielny seeing red after raising his hands to Kucher, who followed shortly after for a second yellow.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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