French sports daily L’Equipe ran the headline “RED ALERT” on their front page while criticism of the playoff first-leg defeat poured in from players who graced previous eras.
“They have shown us they do not have the level to be in Brazil because they could not get through an encounter like that,” Franck Leboeuf, who played centre back in France’s 1998 World Cup-winning team, told French media.
Many others joined the former Chelsea player in questioning France’s level of commitment.
“We were beaten in almost every aspect – for pace, winning the ball back and in the tackles,” said former striker Bernard Lacombe, a 1984 European championship winner.
“It’s terrible. The closer we were to the final whistle, the more Ukraine were dominating.”
Alain Giresse, a member of the so-called “magic square” along with Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Jean Fernandez in the 1980s, questioned the players’ desire.
The former midfielder, who reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1982 and 1986 as well as winning the European championships in 1984, said France’s players had underestimated how demanding a playoff could be.
“France did not meet the requirements of such a match. We really struggled,” he said.
“It’s not about will, it’s about judging the level of intensity needed for a game like this one,” added Giresse, who has coached at club and international level for almost 20 years.
The players took most of the blame, with Samir Nasri the main target after another failure to prove decisive in a playmaker role, but former full back Eric Di Meco also hit out at coach Didier Deschamps.
Deschamps has won just seven of his 17 matches since he took over from Laurent Blanc following their quarter-final exit at Euro 2012.
“We’ve been told that Deschamps had chosen not to field a team to control the play. But when have we managed to upset an opponent with that tactic?,” Di Meco said.
“We just don’t have any ideas about how to play. (Franck) Ribery was marked by three players yesterday. Yet, we never tried anything different. If we were smart on the pitch, we should have figured out how to play differently.”
There was little optimism about France’s chances of reversing the defeat in the second leg, given no team has ever overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit in a European World Cup playoff.
Yet Bixente Lizarazu, a 1998 World Cup winner, is still cautiously hopeful they can qualify.
“It’s possible to win 2-0, play extra-time and qualify on penalties. We have the quality for it,” he said.
“But if Ukraine score a goal, it will all be over.”
(Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Toby Davis)