French Quality Too Much for the Hosts
Ukraine 0-2 France
(Jeremy Menez 53, Yohan Cabaye 56)
France weathered a violent storm to defeat Ukraine at the Donbass Arena. Torrential downpour altered the game for almost an hour but play resumed as the fans were treated to a spectacle.
Surprisingly, Oleg Blokhin made no changes to his starting line-up. Nazarenko dropped deep to pair with Tymoshchuk in front of the defence. Voronin who was stationed behind Shevchenko had Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko on either side of him operating on the flanks. Laurent Blanc switched from the 4-3-3 formation he employed in his team’s opener against England to a more effective 4-2-3-1. In the defence, Clichy was brought in to replace Evra on the left and in attack, Nasri replaced Malouda. Nasri though was moved from his flank role against England to the middle where he orchestrated play behind Benzema.
The game began amidst the rains and the first moment of drama took place during the national anthems via a sudden clap of thunder. After five minutes, Dutch referee took the bold step to halt play when the rains had aggravated to pelting on the playing surface. The close proximity between the lightning and the thunder was enough to instigate a precautionary measure by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers. The worst of the storm passed and in no time the waterlogged pitch was effectively drained.
Play restarted and Ukraine did just enough to assimilate France’s attacking pressure. The guileful French attackers roamed the pitch switching positions at different times. Benzema cut inside and had a pop from distance to test Pyatov who comfortably palmed the ball away. Both teams continually found a lot of space on the counter. On 15 minutes, Benzema did well to get in between the two centre-backs and knocked the ball back with a header but no team mate made a run towards the ball. A minute later, Menez got on the end of a delightful pass from Samir Nasri and wasted no time in slotting the ball at the back of the net. The linesman’s flag came to Ukraine’s rescue as the goal was ruled offside. A motivated Ukraine kept France at bay with a series of strong challenges. The Ukraine defence being mean to Benzema in particular. On 26 minutes, Ribery robbed Nazarenko of the ball but his pull-back to Menez was laid to waste by the Paris Saint-Germain attacker. Tymoshchuk’s misguided pass in the 28th minute found Ribery who burst down the left. His intercepted cross for Benzema fell straight to Menez but the goalkeeper made a brave block to keep the score level. Talisman Shevchenko had his chance in the 33rd minute. His shot from an angle did little to disturb Hugo Lloris. Minutes later, an intervention by Phillipe Mexes spared Benzema’s blushes. Mexes’ header forced an excellent save from Pyatov before the break.
Oleg Blokhin made half-time changes to his team, Marko Devic replacing Andriy Voronin. France started the second half strongly and a couple of last-ditch interceptions prevented them from going in front. Shevchenko’s powerful shot missed the target by inches as the Ukranians delivered a threat from a counter-attack. France took the lead through Menez on the 53rd minute. Benzema’s pass to him was expertly controlled before firing a low shot into the bottom right corner of the post. End-to-end stuff ensued as a result. The Ukrainians came out to find an equaliser but they were punished as Les Blues got a second goal from Yohan Cabaye. Benzema again was the provider, He dazzled away from his marker to thread a ball into the path of Cabaye whose shot whistled past the helpless Pyatov. The goal demotivated the Ukrainians and France became in total control. Cabaye hit the post amongst a flurry of chances for France but the scoreline stayed 2-0. The full-time whistle was accompanied by a chorus of boos from supporters of the home side.
POST MATCH THOUGHTS
The result leaves Ukraine with three points, one short of England and France who top the group meaning they can still qualify mathematically. It’s an extremely unlikely scenario though for the reason that they face a more superior England side in the final group game. Oleg Blokhin’s side need to play through Shevchenko more often if they are to have any chance of qualifying. They also need to work on their finishing seeing that they wasted a lot of chances in this one. They only had a shot on target out of nine tries. France on the other hand will be brimming with confidence after a dominant display. Laurent Blanc’s change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 proved effective so he is expected to stick with that in subsequent matches. Alou Diarra once again bossed the midfield was and was a rock in front of the defence. He started in France’s first game due to injury to Yann M’Vila but now he is close to indispensable. Expect Laurent Blanc to preserve faith in him. France face Sweden in their last group game, a win which is very feasible as the Swedes are the whipping boys of the group with no points to their name.
Ukraine (4-2-3-1): Pyatov; Selin, Khacheridi, Mikhalik, Gusev; Nazarenko, Tymoshchuk; Konoplyanka, Voronin(Devic 46), Yarmolenko (Aliyev 68); Shevchenko.
France (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Clichy, Mexes, Rami, Debuchy; Cabaye (M’Vila 68), Diarra; Ribery, Nasri, Menez (Martin 73); Benzema (Giroud 76).
“I warned the lads that the match against Sweden meant little. Some of the players were thinking they were already in the quarter-finals.” – Ukraine Manager, Oleg Blokhin on Ukraine’s loss.
“Ménez has a quality that none of Ribéry, Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa or Mathieu Valbuena truly possess. He has the speed and the power to run in behind and hurt defences. That’s a rare quality.”- France Manager, Laurent Blanc showering praises on Menez.