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Sweden gave France a terrible parting gift on their way out of Euro 2012 giving Les Bleus a quarter-final date with the defending Champions Spain by handing them an unexpected 2-0 defeat in the final Group D fixture on Tuesday night. Christian Wilhelmsson was the man behind the victory with Captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic also playing his part by scoring the opener with an astonishing piece of skill. The upset brough an end to Franceâ€™s 23 match unbeaten streak, and the team must now lift themselves ahead of a tough quarter-final encounter against the pre-tournament favourites. To make matters worse for Les Bleus, central defender Philippe Mexes would be unavailable for that crunch game after picking a yellow for a second consecutive game. Manager Laurent Blanc has a big job on his hands to inspire a French team that leaves Kyiv shell-shocked.
European Giants France took on an already knocked out Sweden side in the last set of group matches. With the group winner set to avoid Spain and face Italy, France were looking to get all three points to retain their position at the top of the Group D. They had all but ensured qualification before the match as only an England loss combined by their defeat to a disappointing Swedes can put them out, and that too only if they have a worse goal difference than the Three Lions.
France made two surprise changes as well with both the goal scorers of the last game demoted to the bench. Blanc surprised everyone by putting in Hatem Ben Arfa in place of Jeremy Menez and the talented Yann M'Vila coming on for Yohan Cabaye. Although the Rennes midfielder was expected to find his place in the first-team as soon as he recovered, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Cabaye had done enough to keep his place in the team. However, the change meant that France set up with two out and out defensive midfielders, bringing back memories of when Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira ruled the roost.
Sweden were only playing for pride and made two changes for the side that lost 3-2 to England in a heart-breaking manner. Emir Bejrami came in for Rasmus Elm on the left side of midfield and Johan Elmander lost out to Ola Toivonen as the lone man up top due to a niggling foot injury. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was deployed in that attacking midfield role again and was looking to get back to scoring ways after failing to find the net against the English.
France controlled the early possession as expected, but it was surprisingly the Swedes who managed to chalk out the first chance of the game when a Martin Olsson cross found an unmarked Toivonen inside the box. However, the striker could not keep his effort on target as he bid to generate power on the header. The Swedes troubled the French from the left wing again with Kim Kallstrom getting space to put in a cross which was met by Larsson. However, it was easily gobbled up by Lloris.
France responded by creating the next few chances as they had a cross of their own hoofed clear. Ribery then tested the Swedish goalkeeper on either side of poor strikes by by newcomer Ben Arfa. And the Bayern Munich star almost put Les Blues in the lead after some poor defending by Granqvist helped Benzema to put Ribery inside the Swedish penalty area. However, the winger's shot from an acute angle was well saved by Isaksson.
Sweden then wasted a golden opportunity to take the lead. A long clearance by the Swedes saw Toivonen and Mexes battle for the header. The Swedish striker somehow managed to win the aerial duel and then rounded Lloris, only to hit the post of an unmarked goal from a very tight angle.
Ribery then started to come more into the game as he wriggled past his marker on the flank before putting in an early cross for Benzema. However, the Real Madrid striker could only blast his shot way over as he attempted to take it first time. No one seemed to be able to keep the ball down as Larsson was next to volley the ball way over following a well-worked free-kick.
The first half hour of the match culminated with France having shots blocked by Swedish defenders, and Benzema unable to get on the end of a beauty of a Clichy cross. The French were gradually asserting their dominance but the Sweden looked dangerous on the counter. Ben Arfa finally had a decent shot in the 34th minute with a splendid strike which flew just over the top of the post.
Mellberg made a telling block in the closing stages of the half, running with Ribery before throwing himself at the ball as the Bayern Munich man setup to take the shot from the edge of the box after a quick attack. Sweden defended with a wall of players to successfully deny the French good goalscoring opportunities in the first 45. Meanwhile the Swedes had chances of their own in the first half, particularly Toivonen, who troubled Franceâ€™s centre-back Mexes with his strength.
Sweden head coach Erik Hamren put in Wilhelmsson on the left side of midfield in place of the ineffective Bajrami and the substitute thought he had scored with his first touch, only to be ruled out for offside. Benzema responded with a shot from the edge of the box, but he just couldnâ€™t get enough curl onto the ball to find the back of the net.
A wave of Swedish chances followed with the half-time substitute Wilhelmsson doing well on the wing to hold the ball before crossing for Larsson to test Lloris, who was more than up for the challenge. A moment of brilliance by Captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic followed which was enough to break the deadlock. The AC Milan striker turned in the air before acrobatically blasting a cross into the back of the net.
Wilhelmsson was in the thick of things again and almost doubled Swedenâ€™s lead moment after Ibraâ€™s stunner. From the resulting corner, centre-back Mellberg flicked a ball towards the goal with the outside of his boot, to be denied by a diving Lloris. The France goalkeeper undoubtedly keeping France in the game with a string of excellent saves.
France started to push Sweden back as they became more desperate to find the equaliser. After good passing on the edge of the box, Yann M'Vila let fly at goal, only to be denied by a good save by Isaksson. Ribery then went on a run and put in a low cross at the near post only to be cleared by the excellent Mellberg ahead of Mexes, of all people.
A flurry of substitutions for both teams followed, and one such arrival, Menez almost pulled France level. The previous game's goalscorer ran inside the box only to see his weak shot saved well by the legs of Isaksson. Another arrival Giroud then went close with his first touch from the resulting corner. The Montpellier striker found space in the box, but headed just wide of the target.
Premier League winger Larsson then made sure of the result in the first minute of time added on. The game-changer Wilhelmsson came away with the ball once again and put in a pin-point cross only for Holmen to volley against the cross-bar. But, the rebound found Larsson, who gladly smashed the ball into the back of the net.
The Swedes came out deserved winners and now head back home with their heads held high after ending France's 23 match unbeaten streak.
France: Lloris, Debuchy, Rami, MexÃ¨s, Clichy, RibÃ©ry, Nasri (MÃ©nez 77'), M'Vila (Giroud 83'), Diarra, Ben Arfa (Malouda 59'), Benzema
SUBS: Mandanda, Carrasso, Evra, RÃ©veillÃ¨re, Koscielny, Cabaye, Valbuena, Matuidi, MÃ©nez, Malouda, Martin, Giroud
Sweden: Isaksson, Mellberg, Granqvist, M Olsson, J Olsson, Larsson, Svensson (HolmÃ©n 79'), KÃ¤llstrÃ¶m, Bajrami (Wilhelmsson 46'), IbrahimoviÄ‡, Toivonen (Wernbloom 78')
SUBS: Wiland, Hansson, Lustig, Antonsson, Safari, Elm, Wernbloom, HolmÃ©n, Wilhelmsson, Elmander, HysÃ©n, Rosenberg
Score: France 0-2 Sweden (Ibrahimovic 54', Larsson 90+1')
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