World Cup Holders Face Pain in Ukraine

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France have not been at their best for a while as they head to Ukraine

Dider Deschamps is trying to get France back on track.

There are a number of crucial World Cup qualifiers taking place on Saturday with France the headline act for their tricky trip to take on Ukraine and it may not be a simple three points for the holders.

The ramifications of the surprise last-16 exit at the hands of Switzerland at Euro 2020 are still being felt around the camp with rumours of discontent refusing to go away.

They failed to live up to expectations in the summer, only beating Germany in their four matches, and followed that with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Bosnia in Paris on Wednesday.

A red card to Jules Kounde made life more difficult for Didier Deschamps’ side, but they were not playing well before the defender was dismissed on 51 minutes and managed only two shots on target in the entire 90 minutes.

The entire star-studded front three – Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann – were substituted and Mbappe picked up an injury niggle in the process.

Key midfielder N’Golo Kante isn’t 100 per cent fit either and, having run such a tight ship for so long, Deschamps is just struggling to plot a steady course.

Les Bleus Far From Their Best

France are 20/33 for the win, but Les Bleus failed to win the reverse fixture, which ended in a 1-1 draw and showed in the Euros with draws against the Swiss and Hungary that backing them at short odds is risky.

The draw or Ukraine double chance makes more appeal at 7/5.

They actually went further than France at Euro 2020, going out to England in the quarter-finals, and are quite a tough nut to crack.

A 2-2 draw with Kazakhstan was frustrating on Wednesday as they twice led, first through a brilliant Roman Yaremchuk goal, before conceding in the 96th minute to drop two points.

Yaremchuk showed his qualities at the Euros and they are unlikely to be much worse for the loss of manager Andriy Shevchenko given interim replacement Oleksandr Petrakov has been part of the national team set-up for a decade.

Croatia Could be Upset

Another favourite to take on is Croatia, who have plenty of household names in their squad, but that has not translated into victories for quite some time now.

Since the start of 2020, the World Cup 2018 finalists have played 16 matches and managed only three wins.

That includes a loss away to Slovenia at the start of World Cup qualifying and a lack of punch meant the 2018 World Cup runners-up had to settle for a goalless draw in Russia on Wednesday.

Slovakia are not a particularly strong side, but a 1-1 draw away to Slovenia last time out proves they can be difficult to beat and in Milan Skriniar they possess an elite defender.

Take the hosts to avoid defeat on the draw or double chance market at 10/11.

Luck Can be on Side of the Irish

The Republic of Ireland were left devastated by their late 2-1 loss to Portugal.

However, they played well enough on Wednesday to suggest a brighter future is in store and there’s certainly nobody in Azerbaijan’s squad quite like midweek heartbreaker Cristiano Ronaldo.

Azerbaijan have lost to Luxembourg, Moldova and Qatar this year and offer little up front.

Ireland can cover the one-goal Asian handicap at odds of 53/50 and a 2-0 correct-score at 23/4 also appeals.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Mark is the Racing Post’s football betting expert and he is also a regular pundit on talkSPORT and the Guardian’s Football Weekly.

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