World Cup Qualifying Preview: Ukraine v. France

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France travel to Kiev on Friday for the first-leg of their World Cup Qualifying play-off match against Ukraine.

Failing to overcome Spain for top spot in their qualification group Didier Deschamps‘ men now face a difficult Ukraine squad in a hostile location, the Olympic Stadium. France, however, enter the match on a strong run of form, winning their last three matches (against Belarus, Australia and Finland) in convincing style.

Les Blues will be led by Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, who was recently named Best Player in Europe for the 2012-2013 season by UEFA. In an interview on Wednesday Ribery described himself as “fit and healthy” ahead of the match and insisted that France are not taking Ukraine lightly. “For me it’s very important that we qualify. Ukraine are a good team but France have to be in Brazil.”

Another key player for France, striker Karim Benzema, echoed the urgency and seriousness of the play-off. “We will give everything in these two games,” the Real Madrid striker said. “We will qualify, I am sure. There is no choice. At the end, there is the ticket to the World Cup in Brazil – the most beautiful. A World Cup in the land of football.”

A lingering issue for the French, of course, is the poor showing the side gave both on and off the pitch in South Africa 2010. For Ribery, the matches against Ukraine provides a chance for the team to make it up to the fans. “It was difficult for us in 2010 and now we have a chance to make amends.”

From all indications, those amends could be made in front of as many as 2,000 Frenchman scheduled to accompany Les Bleus to Kiev. “There is a relationship that is developing between us and our fans,” said midfielder Rio Mavuba. “They’re behind their team now, and that’s great because we’ll really need them for these two matches.”

Ukraine have also enjoyed good form by taking 13 of a possible 15 points from their last five World Cup Qualifiers. In large part that success has been due to Ukraine’s primary attacking threats, wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, with the former having scored four times in the group stages.

Yet still, most players on the Synyo-Zhovti recognize they are the underdogs in this play-off. “Their players are all based in the leading championships,” said forward Marko Devic. “We’re not heading into the unknown; we know exactly what we’ll be up against: one of the best teams in the world.”

Both sides have past heart-aches that will serve to motivate.

Deschamps was part of the France team that lost 2-1 to Bulgaria at the Parc des Princes in November 1993, ending French hopes of securing their berth at the 1994 World Cup. The 45-year-old admits he is still haunted by the failure 20 years ago but is nevertheless focused on ensuring qualification for Brazil. “It may have been 20 years ago but it still sticks in my mind,” he said. “I don’t want to experience that again.”

Ukraine’s bad memories are a bit more recent as they have suffered play-off defeats in three of the last five World Cups: 1998, 2002 and 2010.


Expect a cagey first leg in Kiev with Ukraine looking to defend well and feed off the energy from the home crowd. They’ll do their best to avoid conceding and I think Ukraine will manage to do that for the majority of the game but the French will break them late and enjoy a one goal edge heading back to Paris.

Ferguson still being asked about Moyes: “We chose a good football man”

David Moyes Alex Ferguson
AP Photo/Martin Rickett/PA
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In some ways absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it seems Sir Alex Ferguson‘s life after Manchester United has been filled with second guessing.

Whether the sales of Paul Pogba and Gerard Pique or the appointment of David Moyes, “Fergie” apparently can’t rest on his title-winning laurels.

[ MORE: Tax evasion charges dropped against Messi, but not his father ]

One thing that seems to bug him more than anything, though, is the idea that he hand-picked David Moyes to be his successor, and should be responsible for his failings.

In a new documentary, Ferguson both defends the appointment of Moyes and explains the process behind his choice.

From the BBC:

“I don’t think we made a mistake at all. I think we chose a good football man,” Ferguson says. “Unfortunately it didn’t work for David.

“Jose Mourinho was going back to Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti was going to Real Madrid, Jurgen Klopp had signed a contract with Dortmund, Louis Van Gaal was staying with Holland for the World Cup.”

The article also makes another key point, according to Ferguson: the manager claims he only gave United a few months notice that he’d be stepping down. That certainly didn’t provide a lot of lead time to secure a big boss.

What do you make it of it? If your answer is, “When can we stop talking about Moyes and United?” I tend to be with you, but it’s a talking point.

Tax evasion charges against Messi dropped; Case vs father continues

FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2013 file photo, Barcelona F.C. star Lionel Messi, left, arrives at a court to answer questions in a tax fraud case in Gava, near Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona prosecutors are calling for the arrest of Messi's father in a tax fraud case. Prosecutors have cleared Messi of wrongdoing but are seeking an 18-month prison sentence for his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, for allegedly defrauding Spain's tax office of 4 million euros ($4.5 million) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
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Lionel Messi will not face charges that he and his father defrauded the government in millions of unpaid taxes, though his father is not so lucky.

Messi’s father, Jorge, could face 18 months in jail and an approximate $2.25 million fine despite a voluntary payment of $5.5 million in 2013 to “correct” the missed taxes.

[ WATCH: Hilarious spoof pegs Messi, Ronaldo as “Friends” ]

The Barcleona star had plead ignorance to the charges, something that failed to impress prosecutors. But, it apparently worked out in his favor on Tuesday.

From the BBC:

Prosecutors allege that Jorge avoiding paying tax on his son’s earnings by using offshore companies in Belize and Uruguay between 2007 and 2009.

Messi’s lawyers argued that the player had “never devoted a minute of his life to reading, studying or analysing” the contracts, El Pais newspaper reported.