Platini: Not end of world if France fail
UEFA president Michel Platini has told L'Equipe it's "ridiculous" to think he can help France's cause to reach the 2014 World Cup and that missing out on Brazil will "not be the end of the world."
Platini, 58, will watch the second leg of Les Bleus' playoff with Ukraine at home on TV, and though he remains a fervent supporter of his nation, the man at the head of European football's governing body rubbished suggestions he could influence the outcome of the game at the Stade de France.
"Thirty years ago, it was intelligent to say I was capable of making the difference to help France qualify," the former European Footballer of the Year said. "Today, it's ridiculous. I don't even know who's refereeing. And this match is a FIFA one, not a UEFA one."
After taking France to Euro '92 as coach, Platini was succeeded by Gerard Houllier, who saw his team dramatically beaten by Bulgaria to miss out on the 1994 World Cup. Almost 20 years to the day, Didier Deschamps' men face the same prospect after their 2-0 loss in Kiev on Friday and have it all to do in the return leg on Tuesday.
"It's just a tournament among others, it's not as bad as all that," said Platini when asked what the consequences of failing to reach Brazil would be.
"Football is made up of emotions, great moments, and others which are more difficult. If the other team is better... It's not because we're France that we necessarily have the best team in the world. We were knocked out in '93 and won the World Cup in 1998. It would be stupid for the French people that we don't go to Brazil, just as it would be for the Ukrainians. But it wouldn't be the end of the world. There are bigger problems."
Deschamps' immediate concern is how to mastermind the first-ever comeback from a two-goal deficit in such an encounter. His former international teammate Patrick Vieira told L'Equipe the 1998 World Cup-winning captain's main problem is his side does not possess the great names it did when he led it to the summit of world football -- meaning young players, such as Paul Pogba, have had a trickier time in adapting to the international game.
"It's a difficult time for France, because they don't have great leaders. For us it was easy. There was already Deschamps, Blanc, Thuram, Desailly, Barthez," Vieira said. "They had a huge amount of experience. They took care of themselves. For the others, you just had to watch them. In the current team, few have that kind of experience. Whether you like it or not, Franck Ribery is a leader. You also have some strong characters. But the foundation isn't solid. That's the reason it's tough to be a youngster in the French national side."
While Pogba's place in the starting line-up is in doubt after a colourless display in Kiev, another prodigy, Raphael Varane, is set to play after swelling in his problematic right knee reduced.
The Real Madrid centre-back is unlikely to be the only change to the XI that was on the pitch at kickoff on Friday as Deschamps seeks a much-improved display, notably in terms of matching the Ukrainians' remarkable physical impact.
"I'm sure that the players will stand up and be counted. If they don't do it now, I don't know when they'll do it. We need to bring together all our strengths and qualities, both mental and physical," Deschamps told the press.
"The ideal scenario is to score quite quickly, but we mustn't be impatient. Time isn't in our favour after the first game, but it can also be done during the game. We have to find a balance. I also don't expect to see Ukraine sitting back and defending. We'll have to attack but also defend."