Having suffered FIFA World Cup qualifying heartache as a player, France coach Didier Deschamps is eager to avoid a similar fate when his side tackle Ukraine for a place in next summer's finals.
The 45-year-old, who filled the post vacated by Laurent Blanc after UEFA EURO 2012, is approaching his 17th and most important match in charge with a healthy combination of excitement and caution. "We're playing two games in five days with no points at stake. Our goal is crystal clear – to qualify for the World Cup," he said.
"These matches are special because it's not often you play an opponent twice in such quick succession. My staff and I will have to adapt in order to prepare for the games in the best possible way," added Deschamps, whose team travel to Kyiv on Friday before the return leg in Paris four days later.
Capped 104 times, Deschamps's distinguished international career reached a thrilling denouement when he captained Les Bleus to back-to-back world and European titles in 1998 and 2000. Despite this prodigious feat, an agonising 2-1 loss to Bulgaria, which ended France's 1994 World Cup qualification bid, still haunts the former midfielder. "It may have been 20 years ago but it still sticks in my mind. I don't want to experience that again," he said.
Ukraine, meanwhile, pose a significant threat to France's ambitions this time and Deschamps is leaving nothing to chance. "They are a very well-organised side, physical and aggressive. I attended and watched a lot of their matches during the past 12 months. The two most important players in the system are the wingers, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko, who play on the opposing flanks to their natural foot."
That threat is backed up by statistics: Ukraine have not lost in ten games since Mikhail Fomenko took the reins at the turn of the year, keeping seven straight clean sheets, with Moldova the last team to breach their defence in a home qualifier on 26 March.
Deschamps's opponents, however, also have previous where World Cup woe is concerned, specifically in the play-offs. Croatia (1998), Germany (2002) and Greece (2010) have all prevented Ukraine from getting to the tournament, while Slovenia denied them a place at UEFA EURO 2000.
In fact, Ukraine have never won in eight play-off fixtures over the two competitions. "Only journalists and fans are speaking about those matches – we, my team, try not to think about what happened before," said Fomenko.
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