France's Gael Clichy (L) and Philippe Mexes react after the Group D Euro 2012 soccer match against Ukraine at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 15, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Yves Herman)
France took control of Group D with a 2-0 win against co-host Ukraine on Friday.
The win gave France four points atop their group and first place in the group. The Ukrainians, who put up a valiant effort throughout in front of their home crowd, simply could not find a way to consistently penetrate the French defense.
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The game was in danger of never being completed when five minutes into play a thunderstorm postponed the match for about 30 minutes. The turf was completely flooded and remained in poor condition by the time the players returned to continue the match. The first half was understandably sloppy with each side getting chances but not being able to finish.
However, the second half was a different as the French took control from the outset creating chances by penetrating the porous Ukrainian defense. Finally, the French broke through in the 53rd minute on a counterattack when Franck Ribery found Jeremy Menez on the right side of the box. Menez took the ball to the inside and used a screen from the Ukranian defense to give the French a 1-0 lead. Just three minutes later, Karim Benzema wove through the Ukranian defense into the middle of the pitch and threw a pass to an open Yohan Cabaye who pulled away from the Ukranians and blasted the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead.
The hosts answered aggressively, but the French defense was stalwart, providing few chances for Ukraine to get within one goal. Ukraine's goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov played a huge game for his team making save after save in a scoreless game to give his team a chance to win.
The victory, France's first against a host nation in a major tournament, saw the Gauls outshoot their rivals 11-2. The win was also France's first victory in a major tournament since July 2006 when France defeated Portugal in the Semi-Finals of the World Cup in Germany.
With the win, France has four points to lead Group A. The two goal victory gives them a +2 goal differential and the edge over England who also has four points, but a +1 goal differential. Ukraine drops to third place with three points and Sweden is officially eliminated after their loss to England. France needs just one point to advance to the Quarter Finals while Ukraine needs a victory in order to continue playing for its home crowd.