Blanc relieved as France finally end their barren run


GROUP D UKRAINE 0 FRANCE 2:A MATCH THAT will be remembered for the extraordinary thunderstorm that led to the players leaving the pitch after little more than four minutes and play being suspended for the best part of an hour, ended with France cruising to a comfortable victory against a Ukraine side that never came close to reprising the impressive performance they produced against Sweden.

Jeremy Menez, who was a little fortunate not to pick up a second yellow card for a foul on Yevhen Selin at the end of the first half, scored France’s first not long after the interval, to justify his inclusion ahead of Florent Malouda, and Yohan Cabaye added a second three minutes later to effectively kill the game on a night when their star performers delivered.

Franck Ribery was a constant threat for France with his menacing runs on the left flank while Karim Benzema, who set up both goals, caused Ukraine problems throughout.

It was an important as well as a long overdue win for France. This was the first time they have enjoyed the taste of victory in a major tournament in nine matches, stretching back to when they defeated Portugal in the 2006 World Cup semi-final, and it was a sweet moment for the coach, Laurent Blanc.

“The French public know that we haven’t won in a tournament for a while,” said Blanc.

There was no way back for Ukraine here once Cabaye struck the second as France took a hold on the game and began to dominate possession, much to the annoyance of the Ukraine supporters who whistled during a long spell of keep-ball that almost culminated in a glorious third goal. Cabaye’s exquisite half-volley, from the edge of the penalty area, rattled the upright.

Earlier on in the evening it had seemed difficult to believe that a football match would take place. A clap of thunder and regular flashes of lightning preceded the heavens opening. The rain was torrential and with about four minutes and 20 seconds gone, and with the storm showing no signs of abating, the Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, stopped play and signalled to the players to leave the pitch.

Pools of water could be seen on the pitch, in particular by the tunnel, and, as the downpour remained relentless, it was difficult to believe that play could resume. Yet it did, some 56 minutes later, due in no small part to the remarkable efforts of the ground-staff.

Blanc said he had feared at one stage that the match would be abandoned. “When the game was stopped, what we were concerned about was not being able to play,” he said.

“All the players decided to change because they were completely soaked. . . The officials came to see us and told us to relax and said a decision would be made at 8pm and so the players got changed again.”

France seemed to adapt much better to the greasy surface and Menez spurned a couple of decent first-half chances before Andriy Shevchenko stung Hugo Lloris’s hands after getting in behind Adil Rami.

That, however, was a rare Ukraine attack and France were soon causing their opponents problems again at the other end, Philippe Mexes’s header from Samir Nasri’s free-kick kick drawing a brilliant save from goalkeeper Pyatov.

After 53 minutes Menez gave France the lead after Ribery and Benzema combined to release the Paris St-German winger. Menez stepped inside Selin and beat Pyatov with a left-footed shot that fizzed inside the near post.

France were in complete control and three minutes later their lead was doubled.

Benzema was once again the creator, picking out Cabaye, who managed to wriggle clear of Oleh Gusev before drilling the ball through the full-back’s legs and beyond Pyatov to bring Ukraine back down to earth with a bump following their win over Sweden.

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