Things could not have gone much worse for France in Ukraine. A 2-0 defeat that leaves their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread ahead of Tuesday’s second leg at the Stade de France was compounded by a red card late on for Laurent Koscielny. A defense that was already short of numbers, with Raphael Varane carrying a knock, is now set to be further stretched.
In truth, though, coach Didier Deschamps was always liable to make changes to a team that so badly disappointed in Kiev. Samir Nasri and Loic Remy may be two of those who miss out, with Mathieu Valbuena and Karim Benzema providing alternatives.
More than individuals, though, it is the team spirit that appears lacking from what is an undoubtedly talented group of players and one that it is difficult to envisage not being in Brazil next summer. The embers of the players’ strike at the last World Cup still linger and will doubtless be fully in the minds of those fans at the Stade de France should their team come up short. Deschamps is under no illusions about what is required to prevent France from missing out on soccer’s showpiece event for the first time since their infamous failure in qualifying for World Cup ’94.
"We need to give everything to produce an outstanding performance and go through," he said, according to UEFA.com. "That will undoubtedly include the necessary flair and fantasy to turn the situation around. We were surprised by a team who played to their full potential, whereas we delivered an average performance. We're now totally focused on the second leg. Ukraine won't come here just to keep it tight. It will be a dogfight with a team that enjoys that."
For Ukraine, a positive result on Tuesday would cap an extraordinary turnaround in a qualification campaign that a year ago look doomed. The Euro 2012 co-hosts took just two points from their opening three qualifiers and faced an uphill battle to finish in the top two of a group including England, Montenegro and Poland. But Mykhaylo Fomenko took charge last December and led his team to six wins and a draw from their final seven matches to clinch a playoff berth, before taking that form into Friday’s playoff first leg.
To the undoubted concern of France, Ukraine have been most impressive away from home in their incredible run, gaining convincing victories in Poland and Montenegro. In contrast to their opponents, confidence and unity will not be in short supply.
“The buoyant atmosphere in the team is being transmitted to everyone," assistant coach Olexandr Zavarov said. "The guys are dreaming of playing in the World Cup, and that is the best energy boost there is. Whoever plays on Tuesday, we are aiming only for a win."
Despite those ambitions, Ukraine know that a clean sheet would see them in the World Cup and they come into the match having kept eight of them on the bounce. They will, though, have to secure a ninth without the suspended defensive duo Olexandr Kucher and Artem Fedetskiy.
Where to watch: The second leg of the World Cup playoff will kick off at 3 p.m. ET. A live stream will be provided by ESPN3.