France relish rain-soaked success over Ukraine

Tom Williams
1 / 7

French midfielder Jeremy Menez (L) clashes with Ukrainian midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk

French midfielder Jeremy Menez (L) clashes with Ukrainian midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk during their Euro 2012 championships football match at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. France leapfrogged Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine in the Group D table here on Friday after beating them 2-0

France's players revelled in the quality of their football after overcoming co-hosts Ukraine 2-0 to close to within touching distance of the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.

Coach Laurent Blanc had called on his players to "let loose and enjoy themselves" and they did so in Friday's match in Donetsk, despite a 57-minute delay caused by a thunderstorm that developed in the game's opening minutes.

The victory, secured by quick-fire second-half goals from Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye, means France require just a point from their final group game against Sweden in Kiev on Tuesday to be sure of a place in the last eight.

France had also bossed proceedings in their 1-1 draw with England but against Ukraine that dominance translated into a succession of chances that obliged goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov to produce a number of eye-catching saves.

Karim Benzema was the creator of both goals, which arrived three minutes apart shortly before the hour and enabled France to end a six-year wait for victory at a major tournament.

"We enjoyed ourselves and we didn't concede any goals," said the Real Madrid striker. "After the match against England, it was important to get the three points.

"We played together and created chances and produced some attractive play. We have to continue. We made them run around and then afterwards we had control of the ball."

On his own contribution, he said: "It's always nice to score, or to create a goal. It's not the same as a goal but it makes me happy because I like participating in the build-up."

Short of having to parry a thumping Andrei Shevchenko drive in the 34th minute, France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had a largely untroubled evening, and his analysis suggested he had had time to enjoy the spectacle.

"We're pleased with the result and the manner of victory," said the French captain. "You felt that the team were cutting loose, taking risks and being enterprising. We did what we needed to do."

Blanc made several adjustments to his line-up, bringing in Menez and Gael Clichy in place of Florent Malouda and Patrice Evra, and moving Samir Nasri into a central playmaking role in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

"When I play on the right, the advice is to come into the middle and drop deep," explained the Manchester City midfielder, who scored the equaliser against England.

"When I'm in the middle, I have a player marking me but that frees up space for other players."

The evening had begun in dramatic fashion, with a rumble of thunder during the French national anthem the first sign of an almighty storm that obliged the players to return to the changing room after only five minutes.

"In the changing room, we didn't know what to do," said centre-back Philippe Mexes. "To be honest, we were feeling pretty stupid. We were laughing. The thunder put a bit of spice in the Marseillaise."

The qualification permutations mean that France could still reach the quarter-finals even if they lose to Sweden, but Mexes says they must finish the job properly.

"After a match like that, it's easy to talk, to say that everything's fine," he said. "We have to stay focused on what we want to do and where we want to go.

"We've not done anything yet. It'd be a shame to ruin something that promises to be so great."

Yann M'Vila gave Blanc further recourse to feel cheerful when he made his return from an ankle injury as a 68th-minute substitute for Cabaye.

The Rennes midfielder missed France's final warm-up match against Estonia as well as the tournament opener against England, but he said that he has now fully recovered.

"The fitness coach told me to warm up the ankle well and get straight down to business," he said. "I didn't feel anything on the pitch and physically, I felt good. I'm very happy."