France beat Ukraine in rain-delayed match

Jun 16, 2012, 00:45 IST | AFP

France weathered a fierce thunderstorm that held up play for almost an hour to beat Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine 2-0 on Friday and claim top spot in Group D.

France on Friday dashed Ukraine's hopes of a surprise second straight win in Group D and possible qualification for Euro 2012's knock-out phase, as they beat the tournament co-hosts 2-0 in rain-soaked Donetsk.

Oleg Blokhin's side, surprise winners against Sweden in their opening match, started briskly against the French, who were looking for a vital three points after a hard-fought 1-1 draw with England in their first match.

Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers ordered both teams off after just five minutes, as violent thunder and electric storms lashed Shakhtar Donetsk's Donbass Arena, flooding parts of the playing surface.

French midfielder Yohan Cabaye (left) watches as his shot beats Ukrainian goalkeeper Maxym Koval (centre) for France's 2nd goal. Pic/AFP

After nearly an hour and some emergency groundwork, the two sides returned and were level at the break but Jeremy Menez, selected ahead of Florent Malouda, put the French 1-0 up on 53 minutes, silencing the home fans.

Menez's left-foot drive was only his second international goal for France and was followed three minutes later by Yohan Cabaye's first for the national team.

Cabaye latched on to a Karim Benzema through-ball, firing past goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov with the Ukraine defence caught square.

France now lead Group D with four points, with Ukraine on three, England on one and Sweden yet to get off the mark.

French midfielder Jeremy Menez (L) celebrates after scoring against Ukraine. Pic/AFP

It was France's first victory at a major tournament since their runners-up finish at the 2006 World Cup and it took Laurent Blanc's side a point above Ukraine ahead of the later game between England and Sweden in Kiev.

Les Bleus' unbeaten run now stands at 23 matches, while Ukraine must pick themselves up after a reality shock that cut through the euphoria sparked by their opening 2-1 success against the Swedes.

The first moment of drama occurred during the national anthems, as a sudden clap of thunder interrupted La Marseillaise.

The match began beneath a steady downpour but the rain quickly intensified, sending spectators scrambling for cover and obliging referee Bjorn Kuipers to order the players off the pitch for a delay that was to last 57 minutes.

When play resumed, it was France who took the initiative, despite the roars of encouragement from the banks of yellow-clad fans in the tribunes every time Ukraine crossed the halfway line.

Ukraine goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov fielded a curling shot from Karim Benzema and blocked an effort from Menez at the back post, either side of a low shot from Andrei Yarmolenko at the other end that dribbled wide.

The arena shook with noise each time the ball came to Andrei Shevchenko, hero of the win against Sweden.

The 35-year-old threatened to raise the volume even further in the 34th minute, but Hugo Lloris was equal to his firmly struck half-volley.

With both defences betraying signs of unease, play swung from end to end, and Pyatov was obliged to produce a stunning one-handed save to claw away a Phillipe Mexes header that appeared destined for the top-right corner.

More enterprising than in their 1-1 draw with England, France remained on the front foot in the second period and Pyatov had to be alert to deny Menez again after he ran onto Benzema's beautifully weighted through-ball.

Shevchenko and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk both shot narrowly over within the space of a minute, before Menez finally scored the goal he had been threatening in the 53rd minute.

Franck Ribery was the catalyst, striding into Ukrainian territory on the left and picking out Benzema, whose pass allowed Menez to cut in from the right and beat Pyatov at his near post with a left-foot shot.

Within three minutes it was 2-0 and Benzema was again the provider, sliding a diagonal pass through the defence for Cabaye, who held off Oleg Gusev before drilling home his first international goal.

Ukrainian midfielder Oleh Gusev is dejected at the end of the France vs Ukraine Euro 2012 championship football match. Pic/AFP

Cabaye almost claimed a stunning second in the 65th minute, his crisp shot cannoning back off an upright, before Blanc successfully took the sting out of the game with a string of substitutions.

A match that began with a torrent of rain ended with a barrage of boos, but the quarter-finals remain within sight for both sides.

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