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Deschamps fears Ukraine’s wingers in WCup playoff

November 12, 2013

PARIS (AP) — Ukraine’s attacking players are in good form ahead of the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff against France on Friday.

France coach Didier Deschamps has pegged wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konopolyanka as the ones who are likely to cause his side’s defense problems in Kiev.

The left-footed Yarmolenko, who can play all across the attack, is expected to start on the right. He has eight league goals for Dynamo Kiev this season and 13 in 36 international appearances.

The right-footed Konopolyanka, who plays on the left flank, has found the net in his past four games for Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

“Going forward they have two players who stand out: Yarmolenko and Konopolyanka. They can make the difference with the ball at their feet, they take people on and they’re quick,” Deschamps said. “Yarmolenko likes the ball to feet. He’s left-footed but likes to cut in from the right. But he’s also very good when he overlaps and crosses.”

Laurent Koscielny will be certain to start in the center of the defense, but Deschamps has to decide whether to stick with veteran Eric Abidal, who is short of form with Monaco, or pick Raphael Varane, who has only three caps.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Blaise Matuidi will play the holding role in France’s midfield and is looking forward to facing Yarmolenko again.

“I’ve played against him for PSG. He’s a classy player and very dangerous. He scores goals and he’s got a very good left foot,” Matuidi said. “He causes a lot of problems when he does that, so we’ll have to be vigilant. But we’ve been warned.”

Deschamps is uncertain who Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko will choose to lead the attack: The mobile Roman Zozulya or Marko Devic, who is more of a poacher.

Devic has 13 league goals in 15 games for title challenger Metalist Kharkiv, while Zozulya has five in 13 for Dnipro this term. However, neither has a particularly good record for Ukraine, which is still looking for a top-class No. 9 following Andriy Shevchenko’s retirement after last year’s European Championship.

“Up front it depends who they pick. In general it’s Zozulya who plays, who is different to Devic, who is a bigger player, and more of a box player, whereas Zozulya is more involved in the game,” Deschamps said. “Up until now they’ve always played with a three-man midfield, apart from the two games against the Faeroe Islands where they went with a more attacking side.”

That Ukraine put 17 goals past Faeroe Islands in their two qualifiers proves little.

But pushing England all the way in qualifying does, and Fomenko’s side finished just one point behind Roy Hodgson’s team. Like England did, Ukraine also conceded only four goals in the 10 group games.

“They’re a solid team collectively, very committed, and they don’t concede many,” Deschamps said, highlighting how the fact that the spine of the team plays for three clubs in Ukraine — Dynamo, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dnipro — improves their teamwork.

“Since the new coach arrived he has a tendency to pick home-based players from three or four teams,” Deschamps said. “They know each other well, particularly the defense and the goalkeeper. Three of the four defenders play in the same club as him (Shakhtar).”

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