France squeezed into the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday, securing one of the last remaining European spots with a 3-2 aggregate win against the Ukraine.
Scruffy goals from centre back Mamadou Sakho and striker Karim Benzema in the first half of the match, and a Ukrainian defender’s own goal with 20 minutes left in the second, sent French fans cheering and earned Les Bleus a dose of redemption among many of their critics at home.
Having lost 2-0 in the first-leg of the playoff in Kiev on Friday, the pressure was on the French squad to deliver a near-perfect game at the Stade de France in the outskirts of Paris on Friday night.
The French side had to score at least three times without sacrificing any points to walk away as the winner of the playoff.
Both teams came out in fighting form, showing eagerness to attack as soon as the first whistle was blown.
The Ukrainian defenders did not hesitate to deliver hard tackles to stop the French attackers, with Ruslan Rotan picking up a yellow card just 7 minutes into the game.
Two headers close to Ukraine’s goal brought the French crowd to its feet, but both sailed off target.
France kept up its relentless offensive campaign and it finally paid off 22 minutes in. A missile by Franck Ribéry into the bottom-left corner bounced off the keeper’s extended hands; Sakho was then perfectly placed to sink the ball into the net.
Minutes later Ribery once again scrambled around the Ukrainian defense and crossed to Karim Benzema for a goal he forced in with his chest, but the young Real Madrid striker was wrongly called offside.
Another Benzema goal just five minutes later was counted, even if this time he was in an offside position.
Controversy continued when Ukraine’s Yevhen Khacheridi was ejected just two minutes into the second half, reducing his side to 10 players for the remainder of the make-or-break match.
France’s victory and ticket to Brazil was then sealed when substitute defender Oleg Gusev put a goal his own net in the 72nd minute.