Current world champions France will aim to kick off their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign when they host Ukraine this week.
The first international break on the calendar is upon us and the European teams will start the road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup with qualifying starting this week. And the reigning world champions will be in action in Group D as they face Ukraine at Stade de France on Wednesday night.
Part of a seemingly straightforward squad with Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, France enter the qualifying campaign as favorites to become group winners. And they will aim to live up to that goal this week, building on their UEFA Nations League wins against Portugal and Sweden last November.
Ukraine, meanwhile, have been winless since their shock 1-0 triumph over Spain last October. As a result of the match, Andriy Shevchenko’s men suffered back-to-back defeats to Poland (friendly), Germany and Switzerland, the latter two being in the UEFA Nations League. They hope to fight vigorously and come away with at least one point against the Blues.
The last time these two teams met was in October 2020, when a ruthless French team got injured and Ukraine hit COVID 7-1 in the same place they will fight on Wednesday. And before their final game, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team news and tactics
– Equipe de France @ (@FrenchTeam) 18 mars 2021
There are no big surprises when it comes to the squad that coach Didier Deschamps has picked up for the current series of matches. All the usual suspects are present as there are some nice returns for Tottenham Hotspur’s Tanguy Ndombele and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, who will want to make the most of any opportunity that presents itself ahead of the Euros.
Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar, who have not been with the national team for almost two years, are also making their return. The likes of AC Milan’s Steven Nzonzi, Corentin Tolisso, Dayot Upamecano and Theo Hernandez are missing from the 26-man roster.
Captain Hugo Lloris will be the undisputed starter with Deschamps likely to put his team in 4-1-2-1-2 in front of the goalkeeper. In such a system, Bayern Munich’s full-back duo of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez will have the burden of providing breadth during the attacking phases while Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe will start as center-backs.
N’Golo Kante is a certainty at the base of the midfielder for France with the duo of Ndombele and Paul Pogba likely to flank him from where they will be responsible for providing the push forward. Considering the latter recently returned from an injury, he’s unlikely to play the full game as Adrien Rabiot is likely to have playing time at some point.
Antoine Griezmann, who seems to have regained his form at Barcelona, will play in the hole behind the two strikers who owe Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe.
Probable programming (4-1-2-1-2): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Hernandez; Kante; Pogba, Ndombele; Griezmann; Mbappé, Giroud
Of the initial squad of 33 players called for qualifying by Andriy Shevchenko, five players had to retire. Artem Besedin, Viktor Tsygankov, Taras Stepanenko have all stepped down due to injury concerns while Igor Kharatin and Viktor Kornienko have tested positive for the coronavirus and will not play any role. Uncapped forward Artem Dobvyk earned a call.
Shevchenko is hoping to avoid a similar fate to the last time these two times met and could, thus, set up his squad with a more defensive outlook on Wednesday night. Veteran captain and goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov is set to start ahead of Real Madrid’s Andriy Lunin while Mykola Matvienko and Serhiy Kryvtsov form the center-back duo.
Oleksandr Karavayev and Eduard Sobol are expected to be the two full-backs on the right and left respectively. The duo are likely to stay back and help center-backs rather than looking to attack from the flanks.
Serhiy Sydorchuk will provide additional scouting for the defense of the midfielder role, with backing from Manchester City star Oleksandr Zinchenko, who will also look to advance with the ball when the opportunity arises. Ruslan Malinovskyi will take third place in the middle of the park.
West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko, who is Ukraine’s top scorer in the current called-up squad, is expected to get the nod to the right flank while Oleksandr Zubkov starts on the left. Roman Yaremchuk, who has six goals in 19 international appearances, is expected to lead the line for Ukraine.
Probable programming (4-3-3): Pyatov; Karavayev, Krytsov, Matvienko, Sobol; Malinovskyi, Sydorchuk, Zinchenko; Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk, Zubkov
- This will be the 11th meeting between France and Ukraine. Six of the ten previous matches have been won by France while Ukraine has won only one victory (D3).
- France have won their last two meetings with Ukraine with an overall score of 10-1.
- In its ten previous meetings, France has kept six clean sheets while Ukraine has only managed two.
- France managed to win six of the eight matches they played in 2020, losing only one (D1).
- Ukraine, on the other hand, won just two of their eight years last year, losing the other six, although the victories came against strong opposition in Switzerland and Spain.
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It was another strange season for Paul Pogba at Manchester United. Although he’s been showing signs of form since the start of the year, an injury in February meant he missed a series of games before returning to action only last week. The Frenchman has looked good in both matches, but has yet to reach his peak. So it will be interesting to see how he does in the next few matches.
With his future at club level uncertain and a place in the euro at stake, the 28-year-old will no doubt be keen to make a strong impression. And given that he intervenes most often and delivers regularly for the national team, we can expect Pogba to play a key role in helping France meet the challenge of Ukraine this week.
France 2-0 Ukraine
Ukraine, unlike the last time they faced France, have a more competitive squad with almost all of Andriy Shevchenko’s top picks available. However, the same is true for France, which have one of the strongest teams on paper and with a number of their best players such as N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann in good shape. An easy win for the world champions should be the result of Wednesday’s game.