Ukraine 0-2 France: Les Bleus strike twice after lightning storm delay
After a torrential downpour suspended play for nearly an hour, Laurent Blanc's side notched two in four minutes to kill off the co-hosts' hopes of two wins on the trot in Group D
France boosted their hopes of reaching the Euro 2012 quarter-finals with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Ukraine in a rain-delayed Group D fixture in Donetsk.
Having been forced to leave the pitch after only four minutes due to a massive storm, play resumed nearly an hour later, but it wasn’t until the second half that the killer blows were dealt, with Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scoring within four minutes of each other to seal the points for Les Bleus.
Laurent Blanc made two changes to the France side that drew with England on Monday, dropping Patrice Evra in favour of Gael Clichy, while Menez replaced Florent Malouda in midfield. Meanwhile, Ukraine remained unchanged from their 2-1 win over Sweden, with Andriy Shevchenko’s brace against the Scandinavians keeping him in the side.
Shortly before kick-off the heavens opened, with several booming claps of thunder interrupting the national anthems. The storm continued as the game started, and the referee had no choice but to lead the players off the pitch with only four minutes on the clock.
The match got back under way almost an hour later, and France immediately took charge of the game, dominating the early possession. Menez had a goal ruled out for offside, but Blanc’s side continued to look far more threatening than the co-hosts.
Les Bleus spurned a superb chance just before the half-hour when Franck Ribery’s ball across the box worked all the way through to the onrushing Menez, and the Paris Saint-Germain winger forced a fine save from Andriy Pyatov.
Ukraine almost took a surprise lead just over 10 minutes before the break when Shevchenko latched on to a lofted through ball and rifled a volley towards goal, but it was from a wide angle and Hugo Lloris confidently parried away from his near post.
After a period of pressure from Ukraine, France moved up the other end and Ribery won a free kick, which Philippe Mexes rose highest to meet in the box, but his header was kept out by another excellent save from Pyatov.
Marko Devic replaced the barely involved Andriy Voronin at the break, but it was France who started the second half brightly. Menez tested Pyatov yet again, striking low from the left and the Ukraine shot-stopper stood firm.
Shevchenko then showed a superb moment of class at the other end, collecting the ball and unleashing a long-range effort which flew inches over the bar. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk had another effort moments later, blasting over from the edge of the box as the game started to open up.
And it wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken. On 52 minutes Karim Benzema found Menez in the area, and the winger cut inside on to his left foot and slotted a fine strike inside Pyatov’s near post to give Blanc’s side the lead.
France had their tails up, and Benzema looked lively. The Real Madrid striker played a delightful through-ball to Cabaye four minutes later, and the midfielder shrugged off a challenge before finishing low across goal to double the advantage.
After a distinctly flat period in which France monopolised possession, the ball fell again to Cabaye who rocketed a strike from outside the box, and Pyatov could only watch as it rattled against his post and back out.
The partisan crowd had little to cheer as the match entered the latter stages, and even a free kick curled over by substitute Oleksandr Aliyev failed to improve the dampened moods of the Ukraine supporters.
Blanc’s side held on for the win as the game petered out to its conclusion, and have given themselves a solid platform for their final Group D fixture when they take on Sweden in their bid to qualify for the quarter-finals.