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Saturday, June 16, 2012
An exhilarating match on an extraordinary night in Donetsk, with play suspended for almost an hour because of a thunderstorm, ended with France beating their hosts to go top of Group D and a long way towards securing a place in the knockout stages.
Even before kick-off in the Donbass Arena, the atmosphere was building towards a special night. Thunderstorms had been predicted and shortly before the start the crackling sky confirmed that lightning was present — and rain was not far away. Just as La Marseilleise was interupted by an intense thunderclap that created the perfect backdrop for a match already electric with tension, so the heavens began to open.
What was steady rain became torrential, and as lightning forked the sky above the magnificent Donbass Arena, referee Bjorn Kuipers had no alternative but to take the players off with barely four minutes on the clock.
It would be almost an hour before play resumed and the extraordinary atmosphere did not diminish as players picked up where they had left off, at a frenetic 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 St Germain midfielder made no mistake in the 53rd 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. Then, 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 co
That second goal was a killer blow, effectively ending the match as a contest with Ukraine visibly deflated.
Cabaye struck Pyatov’s upright with a thumping drive as France threatened to humiliate their hosts, who kept going to the end.
France boss Laurent Blanc felt his side deserved their victory.
He said: "After the first game we knew the last game would be very important. In terms of psychologically it’s good to win the first game.
"I think right from the start to the finish we dominated the game in terms of shots on target, ball possession. We couldn’t put the ball into the net in the first half. They had a few moments but I think we dominated.’’
Blanc’s opposite number, Oleg Blokhin, accused some members of his side of arrogance.
"We have lost. I said some players thought they were already in the quarter-final. I won’t name them but I will have a serious question with them,’’ he said.
SUBS FOR UKRAINE: Devic for Voronin 46, Milevskiy for Nazarenko 60.
SUBS FOR FRANCE: M’Vila for Cabaye 68, Martin for Menez 73, Giroud for Benzema 75.
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