World Cup play-offs: It's all over, France

World Cup play-offs: It's all over, France

FIRST LEG

UKRAINE 2 (Roman Zozulia 61, Andriy Yarmolenko 82-pen)

FRANCE 0

Forget Portugal. Forget Greece. And please do forget about England. This was the biggest shock to the system because the old system is being overhauled.

After a night of pure French farce, Didier Deschamps' dozing cavaliers are on the brink of being bundled out of a tournament that an entire generation believe is their birthright.

A generation of Les Bleus raised on Zizou and Thierry Henry and buoyed by World Cup 98, Euro 2000 and the near-miss of 2006 are now contemplating a crisis of identity. They are preening peacocks no more. They are plodding pedestrians.

Deschamps has encouraged a youthful evolution of his squad, bringing through the likes of Paul Pogba who was probably his nation's most productive performer in the 2-0 loss in the Ukraine Saturday morning. But such a positive philosophy will not be enough.

France need Saint Jude in the dugout - the patron saint of lost causes.

Much of the pre-play-offs attention focused on the battle between Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but a fellow Fifa Ballon d'Or nominee has been unfairly overlooked.

Franck Ribery's form for club and country has been peerless in the last 12 months, lifting Bayern Munich to a treble and a transitional French side to the cusp of World Cup qualification.

But Ukraine proved a bridge too far. Ribery was rubbed out Saturday morning.

Barring a miracle in Paris next week, one of the brightest talents of world football will not be permitted to shine in Rio. Ribery and company are on their way home for the second leg on Wednesday morning (Singapore time). And in all likelihood, they'll be staying there.

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