France coach Didier Deschamps admitted that his team couldn't cope with the physical approach of their opponents after Les Bleus lost 2-0 to Ukraine in their FIFA World Cup European zone play-off first leg on Friday. The result in Kiev's Olympic Stadium left France in a desperate situation ahead of next Tuesday's decisive return match at the Stade de France with a place in next year's finals in Brazil at stake.
A well-organised Ukraine suffocated France's main attacking threat in Franck Ribery and took a deserved second-half lead through Roman Zozulia before Andriy Yarmolenko made it 2-0 from the penalty spot late on.
"The first half was quite even. We had chances in the second half but getting the first goal gave Ukraine energy," said a despondent Deschamps. "It is confirmation that this team are not easy to play against. They are committed but have quality too. We have to congratulate them. They are in a favourable position. It is up to us to recover well and try to turn things around."
They are committed but have quality too. We have to congratulate them.
"We struggled because of their commitment. Ukraine defended aggressively and committed fouls. They are a solid side. They knew that the danger would come from Franck Ribery's (left) flank. He was fouled a lot and had very little space in which to express himself. We tried to respond to their physicality. Things went in their favour but it was nothing to do with fear on our part. They restricted us going forward and then got the ball forward quickly themselves."
France's misery was compounded when Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny was sent off at the end after raising his hands to Ukraine centre-back Oleksandr Kucher, who was himself shown a red card just before the end.
That means Deschamps will need to make changes to his defence for the return leg with Koscielny now automatically suspended, and the France coach was disappointed to see one of his players losing their cool in such fashion.
"He was frustrated after the penalty and let the situation get the better of him," Deschamps said. "Part of playing at the highest level is being able to resist provocation and knowing how to keep your calm."