The top two teams in World Cup 2022 qualification Group D prepare for battle in Kiev on Saturday night, as Ukraine welcome France to the NSK Olimpiyskiy on matchday five for both nations.
Oleksandr Petrakov’s resident draw specialists played out a thrilling 2-2 stalemate with Kazakhstan last time out, while France could only take a point from their clash with Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Taking charge of his first game for Ukraine since Andriy Shevchenko’s departure after Euro 2020, stand-in coach Petrakov saw his reign kick off with a goal inside two minutes, as Benfica new boy Roman Yaremchuk drew first blood early doors against Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
Ruslan Valiullin would level the scores with 16 minutes of the encounter left to play, and even though Danylo Sikan appeared to propel Ukraine to victory in the third minute of added time, Valiullin’s heroics saw him rescue a point for his nation with seconds to spare.
Unbeaten but winless in World Cup qualifying, Ukraine’s tally of four draws and four points from four matches is enough to see them occupy second spot in the group with an identical tally of five goals scored and conceded, but that highly sought-after victory still eludes them.
While a second-placed finish would be enough to see them keep their hopes of 2022 qualification alive, Ukraine – the world’s 25th-ranked nation – have now failed to beat every team in the group, a worrying statistic with expected victories over Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina passing them by.
Not since a quarter-final appearance in 2006 have Ukraine managed to qualify for the World Cup finals as an independent nation, and after somewhat fluking their way to the last eight of Euro 2020, Petrakov has his work cut out to establish Zbirna as the force they once were.
Hit with numerous absentees before the first ball was kicked against Bosnia, Didier Deschamps’s France sought to get back on track after their underwhelming Euro 2020 display, but it did not pan out that way for the reigning world champions.
Inter Milan new boy Edin Dzeko struck the first goal in the 36th minute before Antoine Griezmann swiftly replied before half time, and after seeing out the final 40 minutes with 10 men due to Jules Kounde’s rash challenge on Sead Kolasinac, France were forced to shake hands on a point.
Deschamps insisted that he had “no regrets” about the way he set his side up following the stalemate at the Stade de la Meinau, and that result has at least helped them establish a four-point lead atop the rankings, meaning that they cannot be caught no matter what transpires this weekend.
However, Wednesday’s draw with Bosnia means that France have now gone four games without a win in any competition, but not since 2013 have Les Bleus strung together a five-game winless run, during which they failed to score even one goal in that ill-fated period.
Griezmann and Serhiy Sydorchuk were on target as France and Ukraine played out a 1-1 draw in qualifying back in March, but Les Bleus previously thrashed their opponents 7-1 in an October 2020 friendly and have lost just one of their 11 clashes with this weekend’s hosts.
Ukraine World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Ukraine form (all competitions):
France World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
France form (all competitions):
We say: Ukraine 0-1 France
Ukraine are no pushovers, and their resilient nature has been there for all to see since qualifying kicked off, but four games without a win does spell concern for new manager Petrakov.
France’s winless run may also lead to some apprehension creeping in for the visiting camp, but we are still confident in Les Bleus’ ability to grind out a narrow but vital win to extend their lead at the top.