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 football.
The French ended a six-year drought for a win at a major
tournament by beating Ukraine 2-0 Friday in a European Championship
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
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
Blanc hopes Friday’s win is a sign France can finally be a
”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
”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
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
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
”If we are not winning, whistle at me, not the team,” Blokhin
Moments before kick off, 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
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.
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
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.