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France in make or break World Cup qualifier

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2013-11-19

France risk losing out to Ukraine while Portugal, led by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, are currently ahead of Sweden and star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Tuesday’s crucial qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The second leg of the four European play-off matches for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will take place Tuesday night with France needing to overturn a two-goal deficit to Ukraine and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal leading Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden 1-0.

If France misses out tonight, it will be the first time that they have missed a major tournament since 1994 when they fell to Bulgaria during that round of World Cup qualifiers.

To earn their tickets to Brazil, Les Bleus will have to overturn their two-goal deficit, something no European team has come back from in a play-off match.

French coach Didier Deschamps said that France would need to play “an exceptional match” to win.

French President François Hollande wished Les Bleus good luck from his state visit in Israel.

“If the team is unified, if they are mobilised, if they are confident in themselves, then they can do it,” Hollande said in Tel Aviv, a a warm overture considering he recently spatted with footballers seeking exemption from his 75% tax on the rich.

He isn’t the only politician who has spoken on the game. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also told the national players,  “You should never give up. Even when it is difficult, you must continue to fight just as much.”

And in what could be considered a teaser to the unifying nature of participation in the World Cup, head of opposition party UMP Jean-François Copé called on French citizens to “stand behind the team” during an interview on TV channel France 2.

Match of the giants

While it is often said that France’s current national team lacks a star player -- Karim Benzema isn’t a Zinedine Zidane, after all -- the Portugal-Sweden game will be a veritable match of the giants.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic are among the biggest name players in the world right now, and Tuesday’s game will determine which of these two powerhouses will have to sit out of the Brazil World Cup.

The gap between the two teams and their respective stars is narrow: the score of the first leg was 1-0 to Portugal.

High stakes

The AFP reported that more than 1.3 million euros had been wagered on tonight’s match between Ukraine and France. While it may require a miracle, the regulatory body of online gambling, Arjel, reported that 88% were betting on a win for France.

“I don’t think it will be a calm match, it will be difficult for both sides,” said Ukraine coach Mikhail Fomenko to the BBC.

Les Bleus will be on home turf after facing freezing weather and boisterous Ukranian fans during last week’s game in Kiev. But they will also be without defender Laurent Koscielny, who was suspended after the first leg.

Ukraine’s defenders Oleksandr Kucher and Artem Fedetskiy are also suspended.

Follow FRANCE 24's French-language live blog of the match.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
 

Date created : 2013-11-19

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