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By Julien Pretot
PARIS, Nov 13 (Reuters) - France need to play without fear in their World Cup playoff against Ukraine to avoid the fate that befell the team 20 years ago when a last-gasp home defeat by Bulgaria cost them a place at the 1994 finals.
That was the last time France failed to qualify for a major tournament and Didier Deschamp's men will hope Friday's first leg in Ukraine gives them the opportunity to go into the return at the Stade de France in a calm state of mind.
Four years ago they had to rely on Thierry Henry's infamous handball to see off Ireland in a World Cup playoff and they will be determined not to cut it that close this time.
"We need a good away result so we can deal with the return leg," said Franck Ribery, who has scored six and set up nine of France's last 24 goals.
"These (playoff) games are special. They are surrounded by a difficult context. We need to play without pressure. We should not be afraid," he added.
The Bulgaria defeat in a group game on Nov. 17, 1993, when Emil Kostadinov's last-minute goal earned a 2-1 win at the Parc des Princes, will never be forgotten by the French.
Deschamps played in that match and probably had that evening in mind when he locked down France's Clairefontaine training centre from Tuesday onwards.
"We must avoid the febrility and anxiety that can harm our performance," he said.
The younger players, however, are less bothered by the ghosts of that match.
"France v Bulgaria? No, it doesn't remind me of anything," said Paul Pogba, who was eight months old when David Ginola's poor free kick led to Kostadinov's goal.
"I don't think about it for a minute," added midfielder Blaise Matuidi.
Ukraine will also be looking to forget the past as they participate in a fourth World Cup playoff tie having failed in their three previous attempts.
"We are trying to keep our players away from the past. To know the reasons for those failures, you had to be there," said Ukraine coach Mykhaylo Fomenko.
Ukraine failed to qualify for the World Cup finals via the playoffs in 1998, 2002 and 2010, being knocked out by Croatia, Germany and Greece respectively.
An elimination against Slovenia in a Euro 2000 playoff makes the streak even more miserable.
Eight Ukraine players go into the home game with the threat of missing the return leg in Paris if booked.
"Football gets more and more aggressive, resulting in a good deal of yellow cards in games like this," said Fomenko.
"I discuss this issue with players. But sometimes it is hard to resist your emotions", added Fomenko who says he knows how to defeat France, a team they have never beaten in seven games.
"Of course I have the recipe," he said.
France, like Ukraine, should be at full strength with Karim Benzema having rediscovered his scoring touch with two goals in the last two games - a 6-0 friendly win over Australia and a 3-0 victory against Finland in their final World Cup qualifier.
The only concern could be in central defence, with Eric Abidal having looked a bit off the pace lately in Ligue 1, especially as Ukraine like to counter attack. (Additional reporting by Igor Nitzak; Editing by Alison Wildey)