Ukraine stunned France in the first leg of their World Cup playoff with a 2-0 victory in Kiev giving Mykhaylo Fomenko’s side the advantage heading to France for the return match next Tuesday. Roman Zozulya and Andriy Yarmolenko got the goals for the home side in the second before France’s miserable night was complete when defender Laurent Koscielny was sent off late on.
France’s pedigree meant they went into the tie as favorites after finishing second in their qualification group to Spain, but it was Ukraine who continued their momentum. Their six wins from their final seven qualifiers may not have been enough to top England in their group, but they have now put themselves in pole position to make it to Brazil.
The opening goal came courtesy of some lackluster defending from the visitors at the Olympic Stadium. Edmar was allowed space to lay the ball off for Zozulya in the box and the striker’s tame finish somehow squirmed past Hugo Lloris in the France goal. The second goal also owed much to some haplessness in the back line of Didier Deschamp’s side. Koscielny has been in fine form for Arsenal this season but displayed his propensity for a rash challenge by clumsily bringing down Zozulya in the box. Lloris got a hand to Yarmolenko’s penalty but the ball still went in off of the crossbar. Koscielny made his bad night even worse in injury time by shoving Taras Stepanenko to the ground after Ukraine’s Olexandr Kucher had already received his marching orders for two bookable offences.
In another of the European playoffs, Greece grabbed a 3-1 lead from the home leg of their tie with Romania. The opening goal arrived just 14 minutes in. Dimitrios Salipingidis chipped through ball left the Romania defense waiting for an offside flag that never came and in-form Konstantinos Mitroglous volleyed into the net.
Romania were back on level terms just five minutes later when Bogdan Stancu emerged at the back post to head home Gabriel Torje’s free-kick, but their parity would be short lived. In the 21st minute Vasilis Torosidis sent a first-time ball on the volley perfectly across the face of the box and Salpingidis turned the ball into the net. Greece will have wanted another goal to take to Romania with them next week and they got it when Romania failed to clear a free-kick and Mitroglou finished left-footed. Greece will now be strong favorites to make it to their second consecutive World Cup over a Romania side that has not made it to the sport’s showpiece since 1998.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.