“France has to be in the World Cup, they simply have to get there,” former French international midfielder Alain Giresse tells The Local.
Giresse, who played alongside Michel Platini in France’s heralded 1984 European Championship winning side, is confident Les Bleus will make it to Brazil, but admits “football is a sport” and anything can happen.
(Alain Giresse (left) and former French team mate Michel Platini)
"It's a big challenge and they have to believe they can win and I think they will," he said. "I am optimistic."
Giresse, the current coach of Senegal, remembers well the last time France missed out on a World Cup in 1994 when the team, only needing one point from their last two qualifying games, somehow managed to lose them both.
“It was a catastrophe for the team and the country. No one expected it all,” he said.
With world class players like Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema, most fair-minded football lovers will be hoping France overcome Ukraine and make it to the big stage in Brazil, where they can pit their wits against the likes of Argentina, Spain, Germany and of course the host nation.
But if they fall against Ukraine, Giresse says the impact will be felt at home and not in Sao Paolo, Rio di Janeiro or Brasilia.
“The World Cup will not just stop if France doesn’t make it, it will carry on,” he said. "The effects will be felt back in France."
'Getting to Brazil will help heal wounds'
The former midfielder who played in the so-called “carré magique” (magic square) – the revered midfield unit with Platini, Jean Tigana and Luis Fernandez – says getting to Brazil will help mend soured relations between the French players and fans.
The animosity between fans and players dates back to the team’s decision to go on strike at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa in protest at striker Nicolas Anelka being expelled from the squad.
“The strike was a big mistake,” Giresse says. “The acrimony started in South Africa, but it's down to a mixture of many things; the behaviour of the players, their salaries, their results. The team still needs to rebuild relations with the supporters. Getting a result against Ukraine and getting to Brazil will obviously help.”
Although France go into the two-legged play-off as favourites to overcome a Ukraine side who have never beaten them, predictions are already being made about the effects, both financially and in terms of morale, that missing out on a place in Brazil would have on the team and the country.
And it won’t just be supporters biting their finger nails over the next few days, with sponsors of the national team having plenty riding on the outcome.
If France were to lose it could cost the French Football Federation (FFF) €19 million in lost revenue, based on a loss of sponsorship and TV earnings, Europe1 radio reported this week.
“Brands are concerned,” Gilles Dumas, head of marketing at Sporlab told Europe1.
Francois Guyot, director of consultants Sport Market said: “Qualification is really the minimum requirement for the sponsors of the team.”
French football writer and TV pundit Pierre Ménès sums it all up by saying missing out on a place at the World Cup finals would be a "disaster", and the failure of Les Bleus would result in the blues for any "lovers of football".
"We need Les Bleus in Brazil. We need to be able to smile and even dream," Ménès sadi.
'Players are in the right frame of mind'
So, all in all, not much pressure for manager Didier Deschamps, who was part of the team that missed out on the 1994 World Cup.
Deschamps, who in 1998 became the first French captain to lift the World Cup trophy as they beat Brazil in Paris, insists his players are in the right frame of mind to take on Ukraine.
"It's played on the pitch but it's the head that manages the legs," said the former Juventus and Monaco coach.
"We're in a state of mind of 'challenge', of 'combat'. There's no room for doubt, for uncertainty, for questioning," he added.
Ukraine coach Mikhail Fomenko has guided the team on a six game unbeaten run since taking over in December 2012 and says his team are extremely motivated for the challenge at hand.
"France are very experienced and dangerous opponents but we're not afraid of the upcoming matches," Fomenko told AFP.
"I think all of my players perfectly understand what we shall accomplish in the play-off encounters with France."