France beats co-host Ukraine 2-0 in Group D

Ukraine’s players were first drenched by a thunderstorm, then

swamped by France’s clever, passing soccer.

The French ended a six-year drought for a win at a major

tournament by beating Ukraine 2-0 Friday in match delayed for

nearly an hour because of a huge downpour, thunder and

lightning.

Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scored early in the second half to

help France’s to its first win in a major match since the

semifinals of the 2006 World Cup.

”I hope the next win won’t take another six years because I

will be long fired by then,” France coach Laurent Blanc said. ”We

dominated the game right from the start in terms of shots on target

and possession.”

Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt and red card in the 2006 World Cup

final brought the curtain down on France’s golden generation – and

the French then failed to win a match at Euro 2008 and the 2010

World Cup.

Blanc hopes Friday’s win is a sign France can finally be a

contender again.

”We scored twice and could have had more,” Blanc said. ”We

have a lot of potential.”

Friday’s match at the Donbass Arena had only been going for five

minutes when, the atrocious conditions forced the players off the

field until the rain let up.

After a 1-1 draw with England in its opening match, France has

four points in Group D, the same as England and one more than

Ukraine. The French also extended their unbeaten run to 23

games.

”I congratulated my players and the Ukrainian players,” Blanc

said. ”It was a good match with both teams trying to attack.”

The fate of both teams will be decided on Tuesday, when France

plays Sweden and Ukraine faces England. The Swedes were eliminated

after losing to England on Friday.

For the French fans, it was finally something to cheer about

after being eliminated in the group stage at both the 2010 World

Cup and Euro 2008.

”France is probably one of the favorites,” Ukraine coach Oleg

Blokhin said through a translator. ”Some players thought we were

already in the quarterfinals. We will have a serious conversation

with them. … It is not possible to win the first game and play

the second like this.”

Both France goals were the product of the one-touch passing and

movement that was once the team’s hallmark.

For the first, Franck Ribery gathered the ball on the left,

sprinted forward and then set up Karim Benzema near the penalty

area. The Real Madrid forward stroked the ball to Menez, who then

cut inside and drilled a low shot inside the near post with his

left foot.

The goal justified Blanc’s decision to replace veteran

midfielder Florent Malouda with Menez, although the Paris

Saint-Germain winger had two earlier chances denied by the legs of

Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.

”Menez is a player who needs confidence,” Blanc said. ”He is

a quick player and it was a very encouraging game from him.”

France’s second goal was another example of exquisite teamwork,

with Ribery and Samir Nasri combining to find Benzema. He cushioned

the ball and then split the Ukraine center halves with a superbly

weighted pass that allowed Cabaye to run on and finish with an

angled shot.

With France’s confidence peaking, Cabaye almost added a third

midway through the second half with a half-volley that hit the

middle of the right post.

The exasperated whistles from the frustrated home fans at the

Donbass Arena grew in intensity, and by the time Nasri forced a

late save from Pyatov with a curling free kick, the home fans were

already leaving.

”If we are not winning, whistle at me, not the team,” Blokhin

said.

Moments before kickoff, the rain intensified as about 49,000

soaked Ukrainians gave a searing rendition of their national anthem

after a clap of thunder had interrupted France’s ”La

Marseillaise.”

When crackles of lightning lit up the sky, referee Bjoern

Kuipers made a quick decision in the fifth minute that the players’

safety and the drenched field made it impossible to continue.

”We were afraid that the match wouldn’t start again,” Blanc

said. ”We really wanted to play (and) despite all the rain, the

field was in good condition.”

Menez should have given France the lead in the 28th. Ribery

intercepted a dreadful back pass from midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk

and hit a quick cross that ball rolled behind Benzema and fell to

Menez – but Pyatov kicked his effort away.

Ukraine’s only clear chance of the match fell to Andriy

Shevchenko in the 35th, but his firm strike was blocked by

goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Lineups:

Ukraine: Andriy Pyatov, Oleh Gusev, Taras Mykhalyk, Yevhen

Khacheridi, Yevhen Selin, Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Andriy Voronin (Marko

Devic, 46), Andriy Yarmolenko (Olexandr Aliyev, 68), Serhiy

Nazarenko (Artem Milevskiy, 59), Yevhen Konoplianka, Andriy

Shevchenko.

France: Hugo Lloris, Mathieu Debuchy, Adil Rami, Philippe Mexes,

Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, Alou Diarra, Yohan Cabaye (Yann M’Vila,

68), Jeremy Menez (Marvin Martin, 73), Karim Benzema (Olivier

Giroud, 76), Franck Ribery.