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Football: Euro eight await World Cup play-off fate

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

France manager Didier Deschamps, who captained France's 1998 World Cup-winning side, is praying the footballing gods smile on his team in Monday's eight-team European zone play-off draw.

Deschamps has publicly expressed his annoyance that France missed out on being seeded and as a result in danger of being pitted against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, Euro 2004 winners Greece, Croatia or Ukraine in the draw at FIFA'S Zurich headquarters.

Joining the French in the unseeded 'pot' are the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired Sweden, Romania and surprise packet Iceland.

Deschamps, asked which team he wanted to avoid, said: "It's legitimate to say Portugal because they have Cristiano Ronaldo, who's a great player and a big influence.

"But playing Greece, Croatia or Ukraine, they're more based round teamwork but not easier or simpler to play."

He was speaking after France's closing victory over Finland with his side already assured of the runners-up spot in Group I behind world champions Spain.

Deschamps will be counting on his side sealing their Brazil berth in less controversial fashion than they did their ticket to South Africa.

France owed their appearance at what was to prove a disastrous 2010 World Cup to a play-off success over the Republic of Ireland, with a little help from Thierry Henry's hand.

Henry admitted to deliberately handling the ball to set up William Gallas's decisive goal to seal France's presence in South Africa.

Portugal meanwhile will be hoping to continue their success in play-offs having successfully navigated their way through the two-legged process to get to the last World Cup and Euro 2012s both at the expense of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who made no mistake this time round qualifying by right.

Manager Paulo Bento will be relieved at the return of star striker Ronaldo, who missed out on his country's final 3-0 win over Luxembourg which sealed the runners-up spot in Group F behind Russia.

Like Portugal Sweden go into Monday's draw secure in the knowledge that talismanic leader Ibrahimovic is back after being suspended for last week's 5-3 loss to Germany.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward said after that game: "I am not worried. In the play-offs we will have two completely different games.

"I liked the way the team fought. If I had been on the pitch, it would have been the same result."

"Everything is possible," said Sweden coach Erik Hamren.

"There are some good teams in the pot, but we will do all we can to realise our dream of going to the World Cup."

Croatia go into Monday's lottery with a new man at the helm after running out of steam with defeats in their final two qualifiers.

Coach Igor Stimac paid the price after offering to stand down in the wake of last week's 2-0 loss to Scotland, which came four days after a 2-1 home defeat to Group winners Belgium.

He was replaced by Niko Kovac, who skippered the side at Euro 2004 and 2008 as well as at the 2006 World Cup.

"We had to something due to poor results and the ruining of the Croatian team's reputation," explained Davor Suker, president of the Croatian Football Federation.

Iceland, one of the revelations of the eurozone qualifiers, secured their place in their first-ever play-offs, with a closing 1-1 draw with Norway to finish as Group E runners-up behind Switzerland.

Monday's draw is at 1300 GMT.

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