LONDON: France produced one of soccer’s most famous comebacks on Tuesday to scrape into next year’s World Cup finals via the playoffs while Portugal blazed through after Cristiano Ronaldo conjured up a sensational hat-trick.
The two European heavyweights will be joined in next June’s finals by Croatia, Greece, Ghana and Algeria after they prevailed in their second leg playoffs.
France had to overturn a 2-0 deficit at home to Ukraine and did so with aplomb, Mamadou Sakho, an offside Karim Benzema and an Oleg Gusev own goal after 72 minutes sending the Stade de France wild as the fans celebrated a 3-2 aggregate triumph.
The 1998 winners had not missed a major tournament since 1994 when coach Didier Deschamps was on the field and he was determined not to let it happen again as France became the first side to fight back from 2-0 down in European World Cup playoffs.
He brought Benzema back into the team and although the striker’s goal looked well offside, he had an earlier effort wrongly ruled out by a linesman’s flag.
Defender Sakho, another player who did not start Friday’s limp showing in the first leg in Kiev, grabbed the opener with his first international goal.
“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,” Deschamps told TF1 TV.