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5 things to know about the Ukraine-France playoff

November 14, 2013
France's soccer forward Franck Ribery, center, runs with Eric Abidal, left, and Dimitri Payet, right, during a training session at Clairefontaine training center, south of Paris, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Ukraine. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS (AP) — In seven games, Ukraine has not beaten France.

That should give France the advantage when the two teams meet Friday in Kiev in the first leg of the World Cup playoffs.

Here are five things to know about the match:

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RAMPANT RIBERY

Ukraine has to figure out a way to stop Franck Ribery.

In his past three games for France, the fleet-footed Ribery has scored four goals and set up another four.

Last season, Ribery won the treble last season with Bayern Munich, making him a contender to win the Golden Ball.

“I’m at the summit,” Ribery said. “I sense that this is my year.”

One player who will be desperate to stop him is former Bayern teammate Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. They played four seasons together before the tenacious Tymoshchuk joined Zenit St. Petersburg.

“He’s always hungry, and you can go into battle with him on the field,” Ribery said of Tymoshchuk. “He’s scared of nothing.”

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FORWARD OR BACK?

If Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba gets to start Friday’s game, he will hope France coach Didier Deschamps gives him license to push up.

“I play a bit more of an attacking game at Juventus,” said Pogba, who scored his first international goal in a 4-2 win at Belarus in September.

Pogba scored a superb goal in the 3-0 win over Napoli last weekend. Collecting the ball on the edge of the penalty area, he flicked it up and then hit a ferocious volley into the right corner.

But for France, Pogba usually plays a more defensive role.

Despite his lack of international experience with only five international appearances, the 20-year-old Pogba is not scared of the challenge ahead.

“You have to turn it into positive pressure,” Pogba said. “It’s huge to play in two games like this, you really gain in experience.”

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FEARLESS FOMENKO

Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko said his team has no reason to fear France after pushing England in qualifying, finishing only one point behind.

“What, now we need to be scared?” Fomenko said. “Now, if we had to do some other kind of activity (other than football) ... then maybe we would be shaking.”

Ukraine has speed on the wings, is well organized in midfield and solid in defense.

“I think the guys realize what needs to be done,” Fomenko said. “No extra words here are needed.”

Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko hailed Fomenko’s impact on the team.

“A good and united team has formed. He carefully monitors each player’s physical shape and knows who is capable of what,” Stepaneko said. “I think this is why our team has positive results.”

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TV TREMBLER

Defender Laurent Koscielny was not in the team when France beat Ireland in the playoffs four years ago to qualify for the last World Cup.

But Koscielny, who is set to make his 15th international appearance on Friday, remembers it vividly.

“I was in front of my television,” the Arsenal defender said. “Like everyone else, I was stressed.”

France qualified in controversial style that night, with Thierry Henry handling the ball before squaring it to center back William Gallas to score the winner.

Politicians and fans, of both Ireland and France, lambasted the French team for lacking fair play.

“There was an enormous amount of pressure for that match but we won it and qualified for the World Cup, which was the main objective,” Koscielny said. “We know it will be very hard as Ukraine has a good team. But we have players who can make the difference.”

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TOO TOUGH TO CALL

Former Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko can’t decide who he thinks will go through.

The AC Milan great retired after last year’s European Championship, having scored 48 goals in 111 games for his country.

“There is no favorite between France and Ukraine, it will be intense,” said Shevchenko, who juggles his time between the golf course and mapping out a career in politics. “Ukraine is in good form, their strength is in midfield and they’re a very dangerous team.”

France has scored 13 goals in three games and has got some of its old swagger back.

“In Ribery and (Karim) Benzema they have very good forwards,” Shevchenko said on RTL radio. “If Ribery wants to win the Golden Ball he’ll have to make the difference in this match.”

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Associated Press writer Mark Rachkevych in Kiev contributed to this report.

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