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France unites to celebrate World Cup qualification

November 20, 2013

PARIS (AP) — The simple headline in big, bold letters on the front page of sports daily L’Equipe summed it up best: “Respect.”

After France overturned a two-goal deficit to qualify for the World Cup with a 3-0 win over Ukraine, the local press united in praise of the national team.

Written off by a scathing media, France somehow found the resources to produce its best performance in many years in a passionate atmosphere at Stade de France.

“This will stay with us for life,” France winger Franck Ribery said. “It’s a match we’ll never forget.”

The notoriously difficult home crowd backed France unconditionally on Tuesday, a surprise in itself. There were no jeers, no tedious gasps of despair early on.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Ribery said. “As soon as we started warming up, we felt that the fans were behind us and ready to encourage us until the end.”

After the final whistle, the players huddled around a microphone and sang the national anthem and the crowd joined in. The players even sprayed journalists with champagne as they ran through the post-match interview area.

“What we’ve managed to achieve is huge,” Ribery said.

L’Equipe featured a photo of Karim Benzema peeling away in delight, his face bursting with pride, after scoring the second goal. Midfielder Blaise Matuidi is sprinting behind him, arms aloft as the thrill of an unexpected qualification started to become real.

Le Parisien chose the headline “Et 1, et 2, et 3-0!” — a reference to the boastful song the fans chanted when they soundly beat Brazil 3-0 to win the 1998 World Cup.

Liberation went with the catchy “Rio, Bravo,” along with a picture of players joining hands as they ran to celebrate in front of their jubilant fans.

“Deschamps a reussi son pari” (Deschamps’ bet came off), Le Figaro said on its website, with a photo of the wide-eyed coach being lifted up into the air by Ribery, Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy.

L’Equipe’s website showed a photo of Paul Pogba, Debuchy and Mathieu Valbuena mobbed by delirious fans with a headline “La Passion Etait La” (They Showed Passion).

Last Saturday, the mood bordered on vicious the morning after a lackluster performance in Kiev that had seemingly ended French hopes.

L’Equipe turned up the pressure before Tuesday’s game.

Monday’s headline featured four angry-looking France players and a headline of “La Rage du Desespoir” (The Rage of Despair).

Tuesday’s was simpler and more direct “Faites-Le” (Do it) — a direct message telling the players to back up their self-professed ability with proof after some, notably Benzema, claimed they were better than Ukraine in terms of talent.

Deschamps had responded to the criticism by bravely making five changes — and they worked.

Mamadou Sakho came into the center of defense in a makeshift partnership with Raphael Varane — they had played only once together before — and Sakho scored the first goal and pressured Oleg Gusev into scoring an own-goal for the third.

The bravest move was replacing Olivier Giroud in attack with Karim Benzema — who had been dropped in previous games. The Real Madrid forward scored the second goal.

“It’s my proudest moment in the blue jersey,” said Benzema, who had gone 15 games without an international goal before scoring against Australia last month.

With qualification assured, Deschamps’ contract was automatically extended another two years, meaning he will be in charge for two tournaments since France is already qualified for the 2016 European Championship it is hosting.

Now he has time to turn France back into a competitive team on the world stage.

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