No European team has ever qualified for the World Cup through the playoffs after losing 2-0 in the first leg of the aggregate-scoring series.
Two decades after France failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup following a home defeat against Bulgaria, Les Bleus lost to Ukraine for the first time in the first leg by a two-goal margin.
That means the odds are heavily stacked against Didier Deschamps’s team entering today’s game at the Stade de France.
The team’s play was so poor Friday that it led the French media to question if the national side’s performance had been the “worst in history.”
To turn around the result, France needs to rediscover its attacking potency as Deschamps - who won the 1998 World Cup and the European championships two years later as a player, must decide who to play up front against a well-organized Ukrainian side.
Franck Ribery will also need to raise his game with to prove that he deserves consideration for the FIFA Ballon d’Or, given to the player of the year.
“Obviously, Ukraine knew how dangerous Ribery could be,” Deschamps said. “They were very aggressive toward him. … Ukraine eliminated Franck.”
After winning the first round of his duel with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he scored the winner in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Sweden, Cristiano Ronaldo is hopeful he can again steal the show at the Swedish national stadium tonight.
Ronaldo scored his 44th goal in 108 international appearances to lift Portugal, which beat Sweden at home for the first time in its history.
“It was an important goal and it gave us victory,” Ronaldo said. “We could have scored one or two more goals but this advantage gives us confidence for the second leg. Nothing is settled yet. It’s 50-50.”
All four return playoffs matches take place today, with Greece in a comfortable position following its 3-1 win over Romania in the first leg and Iceland having kept alive its hopes of reaching a first ever World Cup with a 0-0 home draw against Croatia.
Several friendly matches involving European powerhouses having already qualified for the finals in Brazil are also scheduled on Tuesday, with England facing bitter rival Germany in Wembley for the showcase match of the evening.
The Germans will be missing Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil, Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer after coach Joachim Low decided to try “new tactical variations and personnel.”