After a 2-0 loss in the first leg in Kiev, most would have forgiven France for missing out on World Cup qualification. They weren't especially impressive on Friday evening, and there wasn't necessarily any reason to believe that they'd be any better on Tuesday night, even though they would be playing in Paris at a packed Stade de France for the return leg.
A red card in injury time for first-choice central defender Laurent Koscielny in the first leg appeared to further compound French hopes, but the inclusion of Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho was paramount in the return fixture, as the central defender scored both the opener and the goal that proved to be the difference in the tie as France sealed qualification for the World Cup in a 3-2 (2-0, 3-0) aggregate victory.
Sakho was terrific at both ends of the pitch, showing the defensive steel that's encouraged so many Liverpool supporters while adding a bit of scoring prowess--arguably among France's most important in recent qualifying memory--to the mix, proving an integral part of a second-leg rescue that few would have predicted.
How his display against Ukraine translates to form at the club level is uncertain, but it's not as though he's unfamiliar with solid performances since his arrival on Merseyside. The knee-jerkers had problems with his shaky displays early, but since being deployed in a more familiar central role he's been largely superb during his time as a Liverpool player.
Two goals doesn't make him a finisher regardless of their importance, and a MOTM performance for a side many struggle to like isn't necessarily cause for celebration. But Tuesday underlined the fact that Mamadou Sakho is a very, very good player at both the club and the international level, and regardless of where he stands in the short-term, both Liverpool and France appear fortunate to have him as part of their future.
Video by MostarLFC