Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

France battle back to book World Cup ticket

Sak race: Mamadou Sakho celebrates after scoring for France
Sak race: Mamadou Sakho celebrates after scoring for France

France progressed to the World Cup finals amid more play-off controversy, beating Ukraine 3-0 to complete a stunning comeback in Paris.

Didier Deschamps' side were in grave danger of missing out on the trip to Brazil next summer after losing the first leg 2-0 in Kiev on Friday.

But the deficit was erased inside the opening half, albeit after a debatable Karim Benzema equaliser.

There was nothing wrong with Mamadou Sakho's opener but when Benzema struck with 33 minutes played he did so from what appeared a clear offside position. France memorably progressed to the finals in South Africa four years ago after a Thierry Henry handball against the Republic of Ireland and were thankful for another slice of luck before Ukraine's night got worse after the break.

Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off for a second caution within minutes of the re-start, and while the visitors battled on gamely, Oleg Gusev's own goal on 74 minutes completed Les Bleus' comeback.

Iceland's dream to become the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup finals came to an end in Zagreb as they were beaten 2-0 despite Croatia playing for almost an hour with 10 men.

Mario Mandzukic sent Croatia ahead on 27 minutes, ghosting in at the back post after Ivan Persic mis-hit an Ivan Rakitic cross, only to then get sent off just before the break.

The Bayern Munich striker left his leg in a dangerous position as he battled for the ball and when contact was made with Johann Gudmundsson he saw red.

It mattered not as skipper Darijo Srna's shot on the angle two minutes after the break caught out Hannes Halldorsson and from there Iceland had no answer.

Greece finished off the job they started in Athens as a 1-1 draw with Romania sent them safely through.

Holding a 3-1 advantage from the opening leg, Fernando Santos' men arrived in Bucharest looking to wrap up the tie and they all but achieved that with a first half strike from Konstantinos Mitroglou.

A bizarre own goal from Vasileios Torosidis early in the second half pulled Romania level on the night, but there was to be no dramatic comeback.

Gibraltar made a stunning entry into international football, drawing 0-0 with Slovakia in a friendly at Estádio Algarve in Faro, Portugal.

Uefa's newest members gave their more illustrious visitors a testing 90 minutes.

Allen Bula's side were resilient in defence, with Chester FC veteran Danny Higginbotham – formerly on Manchester United's books – taking charge of a five-man rearguard.

"This is a proud result for Gibraltar and the players gave me so much more than 100 per cent," said Bula.

"It was a dream to play our first international friendly and now we have another dream come true thanks to this great result."

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