Storm delays Euro 2012 game in Ukraine

The Ukraine-France game at the European Championship was halted

for nearly an hour Friday because of a fierce thunderstorm.

Just five minutes into the game, Dutch referee Bjoern Kuipers

pointed upward and blew his whistle, signaling a rare stoppage for

weather. The players sprinted to the tunnel at Donbass Arena as

torrential rain poured and lightning flashed in the night sky.

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin stood in the tunnel and looked

concerned, a towel wrapped around his shoulders. Some fans stayed

in their seats and even danced in the downpour.

The rain eventually eased and groundskeepers began draining the

field with spiked tools. Play resumed after a 56-minute delay.

The match started at 6 p.m. local time and once play stopped

organizers said the game would not resume before 7 p.m., weather

permitting. European soccer rules state that if play is postponed

for the day, the rest of the game must be completed the next

day.

Shortly before kickoff, the French national anthem had been

interrupted by a clap of thunder. About 49,000 rain-soaked

Ukrainians then bellowed their anthem.

The early exchanges in the match were cautious, with both sides

losing control of a ball held up in pools of water already

beginning to form. Kuipers needed only a few minutes to decide that

the players’ safety was compromised by the lightning and

increasingly unplayable field.

As the teams waited for a decision on the resumption of play,

substitutes from the France team, including forward Hatem Ben Arfa

and midfielder Yann M’Vila, tested the surface. They dropped the

ball to see how it would bounce and hit low passes to see how much

the puddles slowed the ball.

The players were greeted with a roar from the fans as they

emerged from the tunnel moments after the decision to restart the

game.