PARIS (Reuters) - Franck Ribery believes he is having the best year of his career and says France should not be scared by the prospect of their two-legged World Cup playoff against Ukraine.
The 30-year-old Ribery, widely regarded as one of the main contenders for the FIFA Player of the Year award, is expected to be France’s main weapon when they visit Ukraine on Friday.
The winger was in the French squad which needed a controversial goal to draw 1-1 at home against Ireland thanks to Thierry Henry’s ‘handball’ goal and qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
But Ribery, who has scored four times and set up four more of the team’s last 13 goals, said France should not worry about the pressure.
“Playoffs have nothing to do with other matches and the environment will be difficult too but we’ll have to be relaxed, not to be scared,” Ribery told a news conference at the team’s Clairefontaine training base, near Paris.
“We have not to do things by halves. We have to go there to win,” he added.
“We have not to tell ourselves that there’s a return leg ... we have to tell ourselves that we have the team to win there and go for it.”
In-form Ribery, who played a key role in Bayern Munich’s unprecedented treble last season, said he has reached the peak of his playing career.
“I really am at my peak,” he said. “It really is my year.”
With 78 international caps to his name, a record that makes him the most experienced player in France’s 24-man squad, Ribery knows he has to be a leader on and off the pitch.
“When you turn 30, you have more experience, you are more serene, you know how to handle some situations,” he said.
“I have always been under pressure. But I will do everything I can to be at my best in the two legs, to make the players feel comfortable.”
Ribery recognized that his chances of being the first Frenchman since Zinedine Zidane to be voted Player of the year would be boosted if France qualify for next year’s tournament in Brazil.
“The Ballon d‘Or is something that makes me dream. But I say to myself ‘play your game, just do two good games and when France will be in Brazil, it will be good for you’,” he said.
Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Ed Osmond