The battle cries emanating from France sound like a particularly fervent verse from La Marseillaise. Talk of playing with heart and guts, dying on the pitch even, has dominated the build-up to Les Bleus' biggest game in recent years. Sadly for Didier Deschamps, great orators do not always qualify for World Cups.

Deschamps, the man who led France to their defining success 15 years ago in Paris, will hope to summon the same spirit inside the Stade de France on Tuesday evening that captivated the nation during that heady summer of 1998 but has rarely returned. If his side are to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Ukraine on Tuesday night, the result of an abject performance in Kiev last Friday, then they will need to produce a performance that the majority of France's populace feel is beyond them.

Deschamps' side hover on the precipice of national humiliation. Lambasted and chastised over the weekend, a poll of 23,000 people in Le Parisien showed that 84% of the public do not believe France will make it to the World Cup in Brazil. More damning was the response when the same newspaper asked how many people "continued to support the team despite anything" – only 16% said yes.

Failure to reach the World Cup for the first time in 20 years would represent a nadir in France's recent decline. They may have been handed the most unenviable of qualification draws, pitted in a group of five alongside Spain, but it has been the manner of their displays that has caused concern, despondence and downright anger.

Deschamps described the defeat in Kiev as a "slap in the face", but his players have vowed to put all on the line in the return leg. "We are ready to die on the pitch," insisted Arsenal's Olivier Giroud, while the midfielder Blaise Matuidi said: "We have to play with heart, with guts ... we have to be stronger in the battles." Hugo Lloris added: "We want revenge."

No side has ever overturned a two-goal deficit in a European World Cup play-off, but France must ignore the history books if they are to join the party in Brazil. Not since 1994 have Les Bleus failed to reach a major tournament (although cynical supporters may wish they had not bothered in 2002 and 2010) when a 2-1 home defeat by Bulgaria blocked the path to America and proved the end for Gérard Houllier.

Laurent Koscielny will miss game following his red card in the first leg, meaning Deschamps must decide who will partner Eric Abidal in the centre of defence. Real Madrid's Raphaël Varane has been struggling with a knee problem but could feature, with Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho the alternative option.

Deschamps said on Monday: "We don't have time to dwell on the frustration, we need to move on. The risk is there but we must play an outstanding game, we must surpass ourselves but keep control of the match. We must put ourselves in the position of expecting something from them [the crowd]. It is our determination that will prompt them to be behind us."

Franck Ribéry was marked out the game in Ukraine and Mikhail Fomenko's side having not conceded a single goal in their last eight matches. Deschamps, though, believes France will benefit if their opponents adopt a similar tactical approach on Tuesday night. "If he [Ribéry] is closely marked, it means that there is freedom for two or three other players. So they have to be close to him," he said.

For Ukraine, the disappointment of missing out on an automatic qualification place to England will evaporate if they can avoid a two-goal defeat in the French capital. Their success has been built on a frugal defence which the goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov says has been the key to his impressive run of clean sheets.

"The guys have been great," said Pyatov. "This sequence was possible due to their efforts. When the goalkeeper is not beaten, the team has a better chance of winning. For me the main thing is the result of the team, it is more important to go to Brazil than to set records."

France must find a way of breaking Ukraine's resolve and hope fortune falls their way again. Four years ago it was the hand of Thierry Henry that guided them to South Africa in controversial circumstances against the Republic of Ireland, a sequence of events that remains extraordinary to this day.

After the defeat by Bulgaria in 1993, Deschamps lamented: "We've made real asses of ourselves." Hristo Stoichkov, the striker who went on to become the tournament's joint top scorer in 1994, delighted in France's misery: "The French were so scared they played with their buttocks clenched … they didn't deserve to qualify and we hit them where it hurt most," he said.

Deschamps will recall that day with misery. A repeat, though, would be even harder to stomach.