Tuesday 25 September 2018

'Be not afraid' is Ribery's motto in play-off

France star man Franck Ribery. Picture credit: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann.
France star man Franck Ribery. Picture credit: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann.

France need to play without fear in their World Cup play-off against Ukraine to avoid the fate that befell the team 20 years ago when a last-gasp home defeat by Bulgaria cost them a place at the 1994 finals.

That was the last time France failed to qualify for a major tournament and Didier Deschamps' men will hope tonight's first leg in Ukraine gives them the opportunity to go into the return at the Stade de France in a calm state of mind.

Four years ago, they had to rely on Thierry Henry's infamous handball to see off Ireland in a World Cup play-off and they will be determined not to cut it that close this time.


"We need a good away result so we can deal with the return leg," said Franck Ribery, who has scored six and set up nine of France's last 24 goals.

"These (play-off) games are special. They are surrounded by a difficult context. We need to play without pressure. We should not be afraid," he added.

The Bulgaria defeat in a group game on November 17, 1993, when Emil Kostadinov's last-minute goal earned a 2-1 win at the Parc des Princes, will never be forgotten by the French.

Deschamps played in that match and probably had that evening in mind when he locked down France's Clairefontaine training centre from Tuesday onwards.

"We must avoid the febrility and anxiety that can harm our performance," he said.

The younger players, however, are less bothered by the ghosts of that match.

"France v Bulgaria? No, it doesn't remind me of anything," said Paul Pogba, who was eight months old when David Ginola's poor free kick led to Kostadinov's goal.

"I don't think about it for a minute," added midfielder Blaise Matuidi.

Meanwhile, in tonight's other World Cup qualifying first legs, Iceland – under veteran coach Lars Lagerback – will be aiming to shock Croatia in Reykavik, while Greece play host to Romania.

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