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France notched up their 23rd straight game unbeaten as Laurent Blanc's side comfortably overcame the challenge of Ukraine at the Donbass Arena, winning the encounter against the co-hosts 2-0 on a day when they easily could have scored a few more. In a game that had a rather gloomy beginning to it due to a lightning storm, France constantly looked bright going forward, with Jeremy Menez netting a goal in the 53rd minute after missing a host of opportunities to put his side ahead. Their lead was supplemented just three minutes later by Yohan Cabaye. Ukraine were for the better part of the contest chasing the ball, and other than the odd chance were really unable to really test the French rearguard.
The victory takes France to four points and puts them in pole position to qualify out of Group D, while Ukraine will need at least a point against England to move into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
Having proved with his brace against Sweden that his goal-scoring quality has not diminished with his passing years, Andriy Shevchenko lined up alongside former Liverpool man Andriy Voronin in attack for the co-hosts Ukraine. They were supported on either wing by Yevgen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko, with Bayern Munich man Anatoliy Timoshchuk forming the central midfield pairing with Serhiy Nazarenko. Yevhen Khacheridi was one of five Dynamo Kiev players chosen in the Ukraine starting eleven by manager Oleg Blokhin, the 24-year old partnering Taras Mykhalik at the back, with Yevhen Selin and Oleh Gusev flanking the duo.
Despite finding the side a bit short on numbers inside the opposition's box during their game against England, Laurent Blanc chose to continue Karim Benzema as the lone striker upfront for Les Bleus, with the Real Madrid man flanked on either side by Franck Ribery and Jeremy Menez. Alou Diarra continued in the side's holding midfield role as Yann M'Vila remained sidelined with an ankle injury, with Samir Nasri and Yohan Cabaye completing the trio in the centre of their midfield. Menez would in all likelihood play higher up the pitch making the formation more of a 4-2-3-1 than the 4-5-1 in the last game. Philippe MexÃ¨s and Adil Rami continued in tandem at centre-half, with Gael Clichy replacing Patrice Evra at left-back and Mathieu Debuchy starting on the right.
The game was suspended by officials within five minutes of kickoff after an extremely heavy lightning storm made its presence felt over the ground. The encounter however was restarted after the rough conditions died down, with Les Bleus immediately showing the passing and movement that saw them dominate England in their previous encounter.
France were certainly looking the likelier side to find the net after the restart, and had the ball in the back of it in the 17th minute. They were however denied by the linesman's offside flag, and rightfully so after Menez had galloped a couple of yards ahead of the last defender when Ribery's pass was played to him.
Ukraine had their own warning strike on Hugo Lloris' goal soon afterwards, with Yarmolenko dragging an effort narrowly wide of the French custodian's left hand post. Their defence however was looking rather slack in possession as Nasri was allowed to nick the ball off Nazarenko and play a pass to Menez, who in turn curled an effort over the bar when he should have hit the target at least. The winger had another glorious opportunity a few minutes later, this time provided by Ribery. The Bayern Munich got down the flank before delivering a cross that missed Benzema but fell for Menez, the 25-year old's first-time strike disappointingly directed too close to Pyatov, who made the save.
Ukraine had a rare opportunity ten minutes before the break when Shevchenko stole a couple of yards on Rami and went racing through on goal, the vetaran striker releasing a strike after cutting in from the left that Hugo Lloris made a smart block to deny.
His opposite number Pyatov however was easily the busier of the two keepers, the 27-year old needing to sprawl across to parry a Mexes header away after the centre-half was afforded ample space to direct an attempt on goal from Nasri's freekick.
Menez, who was having a poor day in front of goal, was rather fortunate to still be on the field at the halftime whistle, going in with his studs showing on Selin when he already was on a yellow card. The scores were level at the break, with France dominating possession and the chances but without a goal to show for their superiority.
Menez certainly was getting his fair share of chances to vindicate his place in the side, and had yet another shot soon after the restart from the left side of the area that needed a save from Pyatov.
The home crowd in Donetsk almost erupted however when their star man Shevchenko came close to scoring for a second time in the game, this time again cutting from the left as Ukraine countered and smacking a drive from 25 yards out that went inches past the top corner.
Ukraine however continued to look fragile at the back, and were finally punished by France in the 53rd minute, as Menez redeemed himself with a good finish in front of goal. It was Ribery again who started the move by finding Benzema, who in turn picked the run of Menez inside the box. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder cut inside Selin onto his left foot and on this occasion made no mistake with his strike, drilling a shot low between Pyatov and the right hand post to give Blanc's side the lead.
Les Bleus pulled another goal ahead within the blink of an eye, with Cabaye all but sealing the victory for France with a composed finish. The assist came through Benzema again, the striker turning past his marker well before spotting Cabaye with a neat pass. The Newcastle man did the rest, holding off the challenge of Husyev before slotting a low, crisp finish past Pyatov into the net.
The quick one-two seemed to take the wind out of the Ukrainian sails, with France threatening to run rampant from then onwards. Benzema, who had a hand in both goals, could have found the net himself on the stroke of the hour, but could direct his attempt from the edge of the area straight at Pyatov. Cabaye came even closer a few minutes later, smacking an effort from 18 yards that bounced off the outside of the post after a sustained spell of possession for the French.
France were very much in control of the game thereafter, maintaining large spells of possession and affording to bring on a couple of their reserves without really having Ukraine trouble them. At the end, the victory came without really pushing Blanc's side into top gear, as Ukraine rather meekly rolled over to allow France to climb to the top of Group D.
Ukraine (4-4-2) - Pyatov, Selin, Khacheridi, Mykhalik, Husyev, Tymoshchuk, Nazarenko (Milevsky 60'), Yarmolenko (Alyev 68'), Konoplyanka, Shevchenko, Voronin (Devic 45')
France (4-5-1) - Lloris, Debuchy, Clichy, Rami, MexÃ¨s, Diarra, Cabaye (M'Vila 68'), Menez (Martin 73'), RibÃ©ry, Nasri, Benzema (Giroud 76')
Final Scoreline: Ukraine 0 - 2 France (Menez 53', Cabaye 56')
File Photograph Copyright: 2010 FIFA World Cup
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