The hosts will be eyeing a comfortable route to Qatar over the next year, while Ukraine are bidding to qualify for the finals for the first time since 2006.
The famed Brazil heroes of the 1950s and 1960s were the last group of players to complete back-to-back World Cup triumphs, and it had only ever been achieved once before that, with Italy conquering the world in 1934 and 1938 before World War II led to a 12-year hiatus.
However, Didier Deschamps and France will believe that 2022 glory is firmly on the cards in Qatar, and if an older and wiser Kylian Mbappe can demonstrate the sort of inspiration that led his side to glory three years ago, Les Bleus will be well-placed to become only the third ever team to successfully defend their World Cup crown.
A shock defeat to Finland in a friendly was the only blot on the landscape for France in 2020, as Deschamps’s men took 16 points from a possible 18 in their Nations League group to qualify for the finals ahead of reigning champions Portugal – whom they beat 1-0 on November 14 – and Les Bleus’ most recent match was a resounding 4-2 triumph over Sweden in their final match of League A Group 3.
Deschamps’s side will be gearing up for a semi-final against Belgium later in the year, but for now, the world champions will simply endeavour to assert their dominance in qualification for the biggest stage of them all, and they have not failed to make the finals since 1994.
Incredibly, France managed to notch up at least four goals in all three of their home victories during 2020, so Ukraine are certainly set for a rough ride as they harbour their own aspirations of an appearance in Qatar.
The 2020-21 Nations League was a truly forgettable affair for Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine, who were relegated down to League B after succumbing to a 3-0 defeat in their final game to Switzerland, who finished above their adversaries on head-to-head goal difference.
All three of Ukraine’s fixtures in November ended in defeat, and Shevchenko’s men shipped at least two goals in each of those defeats – hardly a recipe for success against a France team known for their ruthlessness on home soil – although they did claim a 1-0 victory over Spain back in October.
This week’s visitors to the Stade de France will certainly feel capable of securing a runners-up place and a spot in the playoffs, although Finland and Bosnia-Herzegovina may have a thing or two to say about that, but Ukraine have only qualified for the World Cup once as an independent nation since 1994.
The Eastern European nation gave a good account of themselves in their inaugural World Cup finals appearance in 2006, as they progressed to the quarter-finals before being dumped out by eventual winners Italy, and having failed to make an appearance on the big stage since, Shevchenko will hope to use his big-game experience to inspire his team to Qatar in the coming months.
France and Ukraine last met as recently as October 2020, and Shevchenko’s men were simply swept aside by the World champions on that occasion, as Deschamps’s side stormed to a 7-1 win in a friendly.