Ibrahimovic stars as French draw blank
GROUP D: FRANCE 0 SWEDEN 2:IT WAS one of those nights France could well live to regret. Needing to match England’s result in Donetsk to be sure of finishing top of the group and avoid a quarter-final with Spain, Laurent Blanc’s side suffered their first defeat to Sweden in 43 years.
Blanc, a picture of frustration on the touchline, will also have to make do without his first-choice central defender against the defending champions in Donetsk on Saturday after Philippe Mexes picked up his second yellow of the tournament.
Sweden were already ahead at that point and it was a goal to admire, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s spectacular bicycle kick beating the otherwise excellent Hugo Lloris.
France were poor and although they rallied late on when the substitutes Jeremy Menez and Olivier Giroud both had chances to equalise, they were punished for a second time when Sebastian Larsson volleyed home from close-range in the 90th minute after Samuel Holman’s effort came back off the crossbar.
Sweden also had a wonderful chance to take an early lead but Ola Toivonen, thrust into the role of central striker in the absence of the injured Johan Elmander, left the Sweden supporters shaking their heads at his failure to punish suspect French defending. Mexes misjudged Kim Kallstrom’s pass, inviting Toivonen to bear down on the France goal but the forward’s touch took him wide of Lloris and, with the angle narrowing, he hit the outside of the post.
It was the third time Sweden had troubled France and there were only 10 minutes on the clock. Against a Sweden side that has packed their bags and are ready to head home there was no excuse for another lacklustre opening.
The first two Sweden opportunities arrived from their left flank, Toivonen heading Martin Olsson’s centre wide when he should at least have forced a save from Lloris before Larsson, from a similar position, nodded into the France goalkeeper’s hands from Kallstrom’s cross.
France looked nothing like the vibrant, attacking team that exposed Ukraine’s shortcomings. At times there was a hint of desperation about their play. Adil Rami punted a free-kick over from at least 35 yards and Karim Benzema, three minutes before the interval, drilled a low, raking shot from some distance well wide.
Sweden started the second half strongly and came agonisingly close in the 53rd minute, when Christian Wilhelmsson, on for the peripheral Emir Bajrami, brought the ball down brilliantly before delivering a cross to the back post. Larsson met it on the full but his volley was repelled by Lloris. The reprieve proved to be short-lived.
It was a glorious goal and one that showcased Ibrahimovich’s sublime talent. When Larsson crossed from the right flank, the ball was behind Ibrahimovich but the Milan striker shaped his body to execute a bicycle kick. The end result was stunning, Lloris given no chance as the ball fizzed beyond him into the far corner.
France were hanging on for a period as renewed belief coursed through the Sweden side. Belatedly they roused, Menez scuffing a shot that Andreas Isaksson did enough to keep out before Giroud headed Florent Malouda’s corner wide with the goal at his mercy. Larsson, thrashing into the unguarded net after Holmen hit the woodwork, was nothing like as generous.