Sweden defeats France in group finale
KIEV, Ukraine (AP)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one of the best goals of the tournament with an acrobatic volley in the 54th minute and Sebastian Larsson added an injury-time goal to give already eliminated Sweden its first points of the tournament.
''We really wanted to win this game for the fans, their support has been fantastic,'' Ibrahimovic said. ''We wanted to finish this strongly for them.''
France, meanwhile, limps into the knockout round with big problems to solve in both defense and attack. Sweden exposed the frailties of its back four and was able to neutralize the dual threat of Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery.
''We were too average in too many areas to hope to win this match,'' France coach Laurent Blanc said. ''The Swedish team played with all their hearts, they were better prepared than us. They had a player in their ranks (Ibrahimovic) who made the difference. If you analyze the game we were in trouble for most of it.
''We're very disappointed with how we played. The main thing is that we've qualified.''
The margin of victory could have been bigger as France was outplayed for much of the game despite only needing a draw to guarantee a spot in the next round and facing a team with nothing to play for but pride.
The loss ended France's 23-game unbeaten streak but it still finished second in Group D after England beat Ukraine 1-0 in Donetsk. France will face Spain in the quarterfinals but will need a much better performance to give the defending champions much of a challenge.
''You have to be optimistic to think that we can beat Spain, but it's hard right now to imagine that we can. We have to do better on Saturday,'' Blanc said. ''We wanted to finish top of the group but couldn't manage it, so we have to deal with that.''
EURO 2012: GROUP D
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|Friday, June 15|
|Tuesday, June 18|
|More: Euro 2012 | Standings|
England finished with seven points, while France had four and Ukraine and Sweden bowed out with three each.
France looked lackluster throughout much of the game and lacked clinical finishing when it did threaten the Swedish goal.
Substitute Jeremy Menez had France's best chance to equalize when he broke into the area in the 81st minute but his low shot was stopped by goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson's leg. From the resulting corner, Olivier Giroud headed just wide.
Benzema was largely ineffective again and remained scoreless at the tournament. Ribery had France's best chance in the first half when the ball fell to him on the left edge of the area but his shot was parried by Isaksson.
Instead, it was Ibrahimovic who stole the show with another spectacular goal to add to his resume. The tall AC Milan striker met Sebastian Larsson's cross from the left and put himself nearly sideways in the air before striking the ball perfectly past a helpless Hugo Lloris in the France goal.
''It was a perfect cross from Seb,'' Ibrahimovic said. ''The whole team played a fantastic game today.''
Lloris then single-handedly kept France in the game over the next few minutes as Sweden kept pressing, making point-blank saves to deny Christian Wilhelmsson and Olof Mellberg.
Larsson finally added the second by emphatically volleying a rebound into an empty net and finally giving the large contingent of Swedish fans a reason to celebrate.
''It's mixed emotions right now,'' Sweden coach Erik Hamren said. ''We should be happy with the victory and the performance. ... But at the same time there's a sense of sadness in us all because we would have wanted to stick around a bit longer.''
For France, though, it's back to the drawing board after a performance that would not go far against a team like Spain.
Sweden: Andreas Isaksson, Andreas Granqvist, Olof Mellberg, Jonas Olsson, Martin Olsson, Anders Svensson (Samuel Holmen, 79), Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Emir Bajrami (Christian Wilhelmsson, 46), Ola Toivonen (Pontus Wernbloom, 78).
France: Hugo Lloris, Mathieu Debuchy, Gael Clichy, Philippe Mexes, Adil Rami, Yann M'Vila (Olivier Giroud, 83), Alou Diarra, Hatem Ben Arfa (Florent Malouda, 59), Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri (Jeremy Menez, 77), Karim Benzema.