France dent joint-host nation's hopes with victory in Donetsk
Ukraine 0-2 France
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Friday 15 June 2012
What was nearly a washout became a wipeout as France defeated hosts Ukraine to go top of Group D and leave the host nation needing a result against England next Tuesday to have any chance of reaching the knockout stages.
It was stormy on the pitch at times, but that was nothing compared to the thunder and lightning that rained down on the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, forcing Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers to take the players off with barely four minutes on the clock.
Fans were forced to endure an anxious wait of almost 55 minutes before Kuipers returned to do a pitch inspection on the waterlogged pitch. A dozen groundsmen worked constantly in that time to spike sodden areas of the pitch with their forks, while fans entertained themselves by dancing in the rain to thumping house music.
A huge roar went up when the teams emerged, almost an hour after going off, and the extraordinary atmosphere continued as the players went at each other at a frenzied pace.
The wet pitch made for more mistakes and more excitement, and it was end to end stuff. Karim Benzema fired in a shot that Ukrainian keeper Andriy Pyatov did well to save, Franck Ribery was darting here and there, creating openings and Jeremy Menez missed a hatful of chances. At the other end, Andriy Shevchenko threatened to repeat his two-goal salvo against Sweden.
In the 35th minute, he did brilliantly to control a through ball with his head, but his powerful volley was straight at Hugo Lloris.
Pyatov saved with his legs twice from Menez and saved his best stop to keep out a close range header from Philippe Mexes following a Samir Nasri free-kick. Menez was lucky to escape a red card when he went in late on Yehven Selin moments after being booked for fouling Shevchenko. Referee Kuipers showed leniency, so it was doubly harsh on Ukraine that Menez should open the scoring, shortly after Shevchenko shaved the angle of bar and post with a powerful shot.
Menez had been denied again early in the second half by Pyatov's feet, but the Paris Saint Germain midfielder made no mistake in the 52nd minute when he cut in from the right and drilled a low left-footed shot through the legs of Selin and inside the near post. The small band of French fans celebrated, while silence fell around the majority of the stadium where the home fans had been so noisy and colourful for most of the evening.
Worse was to follow. Barely five minutes later Benzema slipped a ball into Yohan Cabaye in a central position and the Newcastle midfielder turned Oleg Gusev before sliding a shot into the far corner of goal.
That second goal was a killer blow, effectively ending the match as a contest with Ukraine visibly deflated. Substitute Marko Devic threatened with his pace but twice went for goal unsuccessfully when a final pass might have created a goal.
Cabaye struck Pyatov's upright with a thumping drive as France threatened to humiliate their hosts, who kept going to the end.
But the result means that France are now top of Group D, and Ukraine must get some sort of result against England next Tuesday to guarantee going through to the knockout stages.
Ukraine: 12 Pyatov, 02 Selin, 03 Khacheridi, 17 Mykhalyk, 04 Tymoschuk, 09 Gusev, 11 Yarmolenko (Aliev - 68' ), 18 Nazarenko (Milevskiy - 60' ), 19 Konoplienka 07 Shevchenko, 10 Voronin (Devic - 46' ).
Subs: 01 Koval, 23 Goryainov, 05 Kucher, 13 Shevchuk, 20 Rakitskiy, 21 Butko, 06 Garmash, 14 Rotan, 16 Seleznyov.
France: 01 Lloris, 02 Debuchy, 04 Rami, 05 Mexes, 22 Clichy, 06 Cabaye (M'Vila - 68' ) 11 Nasri, 18 Diarra, 07 Ribery, 10 Benzema (Giroud - 75' ), 14 Menez (Martin - 73' ).
Subs: 16 Mandanda, 23 Carrasso, 03 Evra, 13 Reveillere, 21 Koscielny, 08 Valbuena, 12 Matuidi, 15 Malouda, 20 Ben Arfa.
Referee: Björn Kuipers (NED)