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World Cup play-offs

Mandzukic and Ribéry book tickets to Brazil

Celebration was the order of the day on Tuesday night for Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribéry after the Bayern pair snatched two of the last tickets to next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. And both played vital roles for their national teams in the European play-off second legs.

Mandzukic: Goal and early shower

Croatia went into the home leg in the seething atmosphere of the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb with the tie deadlocked after a goalless draw in Iceland last Friday. Superstar Mandzukic set the team coached by former FCB man Niko Kovac on their way after 27 minutes with a clinical back post finish after Wolfsburg's Ivan Perisic flicked on an Ivan Rakitic centre.

However, Mandzu was brought back to earth with a bump just 11 minutes later when he was sent off for showing studs in a challenge in the centre-circle. The red card means he will miss at least one game at the start of the World Cup.

That’s because even with a man less the home side refused to relax their grip on a berth in Brazil, with captain Dario Srna doubling the lead two minutes after the restart. The ten-man hosts skillfully maintained their control over the match and made a chance or two before the end, including a fine overhead kick effort off the crossbar by ex-Munich man Ivica Olic on the hour. Croatia ultimately recorded a fully merited victory and a place in next summer’s finals.

Ribéry: Inspiration at Stade de France

The mood in France ahead of the return against Ukraine was apprehensive and in parts even hostile. Les Bleus feebly succumbed 2–0 in Kyiv last Friday – and no team had ever managed to overturn that particular first leg scoreline in a World Cup qualifier. Until Tuesday night!

A transformed France set to work with passion and commitment at Stade de France, determined to prove a sceptical home public wrong and qualify for the showdown in South America. National coach Didier Deschamps also rang the changes in his team selection, bringing in five new faces and switching from a cautious 4-2-3-1 formation to a more attacking 4-3-3. The plan was to pay off in spades.

With Ribéry as the creator and instigator, the French poured forward from the off and were rewarded with a 22nd minute opener: Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho put home the rebound after Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov could only parry a Ribéry drive. Karim Benzema prodded home the second goal in the 34th minute, again after a move started by Ribery, to level the tie on aggregate before half-time.

French chances were boosted again two minutes after the restart when Yevhen Khacheridi hauled down Ribéry for the second time in the match and was sent off for a second yellow card. The home side now took total control, but a string of chances went begging before Sakho stole in ahead of Oleg Gusev, who initially seemed to have put through his own goal, to make the score 3–0 in the 72nd minute. The game was still poised on a knife edge as a Ukraine strike would have sent the East Europeans through on the away goals rule. But the visitors were demoralised now and the home team were closer to scoring a fourth  than conceding. At the final whistle, a dramatic turnaround was complete and Ribéry had booked his place in Brazil.