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French musketeers in thrilling World Cup rally

France's Karim Benzema celebrates with teammates after scoring the second goal for the team during their 2014 World Cup qualifying second le
France's Karim Benzema celebrates with teammates after scoring the second goal for the team during their 2014 World Cup qualifying second le

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Coach Didier Deschamps hailed a magical show by France after they came back from the brink to overcome 10-man Ukraine 3-0 in a thrilling playoff return tie to qualify for the World Cup with a 3-2 aggregate win on Tuesday.

Oleg Gusev put through his own net in the 72nd minute after Mamadou Sakho had put Les Bleus ahead with his first international goal in the 22nd and Karim Benzema was on target 12 minutes later.

Ukraine, who won the first leg in Kiev 2-0 on Friday, were reduced to 10 men when Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off for a second bookable offence two minutes into the second half.

It was Ukraine's fourth failed attempt at qualifying for the finals via the playoffs after also missing out in 1998, 2002 and 2010.

"It's the magic of football. Four days ago we were bad, very bad," Deschamps told TF1 TV.

"It was a great, great game. It was important for French football to be in Brazil next year - when we've got all the ingredients we can do great things."

Striker Olivier Giroud stole the public address announcer's microphone after the game to sing 'La Marseillaise' with the delighted crowd.

"We showed we are a great team. If we play like this we can go far," said Benzema.

Deschamps rung the changes by bringing in center backs Sakho and Raphael Varane, holding midfielder Yohan Cabaye, winger Mathieu Valbuena and striker Benzema and his gamble paid off on a dramatic night at the Stade de France.

Liverpool defender Sakho, brought in for Laurent Koscielny who was suspended after picking up a red card in the first leg, produced a man-of-the-match performance and was the player who pressurized Gusev for his own goal.

AGGRESSIVE START

The home team made an aggressive start with Valbuena's low shot being deflected for a corner as Ukraine struggled to contain wave after wave of French attacks.

Benzema and Paul Pogba headed just over in the opening 10 minutes while tempers flared as the visitors committed countless fouls.

France were rewarded for their efforts when keeper Andriy Pyatov made an excellent save to deny Franck Ribery but the ball fell to Sakho who blasted the rebound into the net from a narrow angle.

Ukraine had not conceded a goal in their eight previous matches.

Benzema then chested Ribery's cross into the net at the far post, only for the Real Madrid striker's effort to be unluckily ruled out for offside.

The in-form Pyatov also palmed Valbuena's rising shot over the bar as Ukraine looked set to crack.

Benzema may have been unlucky earlier but he was fortunate with the second goal, clearly standing in an offside position when he fired home from close range following a series of goalmouth ricochets.

Ukraine went down to 10 men when Khacheridi was dismissed for a lunging tackle on the flying Ribery.

Benzema missed a good chance when he skied the ball over the bar in the 58th minute as the home side maintained complete control.

Second-half substitute Gusev then deflected a Ribery shot into his own goal to seal Ukraine's fate.

"I regret a few things. We weren't good psychologically - we had to be ready and we were not," Ukraine coach Mikhail Fomenko told a news conference.

"There were holes in our defense. We should have worked harder and be more organized - before the game I warned my players they needed to avoid being booked."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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