France are in serious danger of missing out on the World Cup finals for the first time in two decades after losing 2-0 to Ukraine in Kiev in their play-off first leg on Saturday morning (AEDT).
Roman Zozulia gave the home side a deserved lead in the 61st minute and Andriy Yarmolenko made it 2-0 from the penalty spot with eight minutes remaining after Laurent Koscielny had brought down Zozulia inside the area.
Arsenal defender Koscielny was then sent off following a clash with Oleksandr Kucher at the death, before the Ukrainian defender was also dismissed as tensions between the two teams spilled over.
Nevertheless, Ukraine were worthy of their win and, having denied France an away goal, can now consider themselves strong favourites to go through to their second World Cup finals.
France, meanwhile, run the very real risk of missing a major tournament finals for the first time since the 1994 World Cup in the United States unless they can turn the tie around at home next Tuesday.
In Lisbon, Cristiano Ronaldo edged Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the battle of superstars, scoring a late diving header to give Portugal a 1-0 win over Sweden in the first leg of their play-off.
The Real Madrid superstar headed past Sweden goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson in the 82nd minute from six yards out after a fine left wing cross from Miguel Veloso.
Ronaldo, who now has 29 goals for club and country this season, almost made it 2-0 moments later when another header thundered back off the crossbar.
But the Portuguese had to settle for a one-goal edge ahead of the second leg in Stockholm next Tuesday where star striker Ibrahimovic will be key to helping Sweden to the finals in Brazil next summer after a low-key performance on Friday.
Elsewhere, two goals by Olympiakos striker Kostas Mitroglou lifted Greece to a 3-1 win over Romania in their play-off first leg.
A packed crowd of 32,000 at Karaiskakis Stadium, which included Greek President Karolos Papoulias, saw coach Fernando Santos’s squad create a convincing victory which provides a good cushion for the return match in Romania on Tuesday.
Mitroglou scored one goal in each half and PAOK forward Dimitris Salpingidis added another in the first half for the Greeks.
The lone goal for Romania was scored by Genclerbirligi forward Bogdan Stancu in the first half.
And Iceland kept alive their bid to become the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup finals by holding Croatia to a desperate goalless draw.
Reduced to 10 men for the final 40 minutes of the match, Iceland’s defence withstood relentless waves of Croatian attack.
The result means the islanders, under the watchful eye of experienced Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, now go to Zagreb for Tuesday’s decisive second leg with absolutely everything to play for.