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International Eagles: When Sakho Sent France To 2014 World Cup

26 June 2018

Throughout the World Cup we’re looking at how Palace players past and present have fared for their countries. Here, we look back at Mamadou Sakho’s only two international goals, which proved hugely crucial for Les Bleus.

Back in November 2013, the whole of France were looking for a hero. Trailing 2-0 to Ukraine after the first leg of the World Cup qualification play-off, Didier Deschamps packed his team with firepower in a seemingly futile attempt to become the first European side to produce that kind of comeback to reach the finals.

The nation looked to the likes of Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba to write their name into the history books. Instead, their saviour would be a man who had only scored nine competitive goals before this memorable night at the Stade de France.

"As soon as that first leg was over I started to prepare myself for the second match," Sakho said afterwards in an interview with The Guardian. "It was inconceivable to me that France were not going to go to a World Cup so I deliberately did not listen to any of the criticism. No-one in France believed that we were going to do it but we were confident we would make history.

“It's funny, I had this feeling I was going to score. I was absolutely certain. The night before the game we were all having dinner and I said to Moussa Sissoko, 'I'm telling you, I'm going to score tomorrow. I will score.' It wasn't a case of me being conceited; I was just so determined for it to happen.”

It took just 22 minutes for the centre-back’s prophesy to come true when he tucked home the rebound after a Ribery shot was saved. 12 minutes later Yohan Cabaye’s shot deflected into the path of Benzema to equalise, but with extra-time looming, Les Bleus managed to punch their World Cup ticket with 18 minutes to go.

Once again, it was a drilled Ribery cross-shot that did the damage, and from close-range Sakho got the faintest touch off his knee to divert the ball home and register the first brace of his career.

"It was the biggest game of my life and the biggest day of my career so far," Sakho reflected. "When you play for a club you know you are representing the supporters but when you are playing for an entire nation, the entire population, in a World Cup qualifier, you know it is as big as it can get really.

“After scoring the second, I allowed myself a second to reflect. I was very, very proud but just for one second I had thoughts of my father running through my head. He is no longer with us. I thought 'how proud you would be of me right now'.

“I said afterwards that I wasn't a hero. The hero on Tuesday was the team itself. Everyone was a hero because we all gave our very best.”

At the tournament, Sakho and Cabaye helped France reach the quarter-finals before they were beaten by eventual winners Germany. After narrowly missing out on Russia this time around, Sakho’s memories of his finest night in the famous blue shirt will be a driving force to spur him on to return to the international fold, and an opportunity to create more history.

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