It was wet, it was loud, and it was a long time coming, but France eventually earned their first victory at UEFA EURO 2012 thanks to quickfire second-half goals from Jérémy Ménez and Yohan Cabaye.
The weather conditions threatened to take the headlines after a torrential storm interrupted the action, but an improved display from Les Bleus hardly went unnoticed either. Karim Benzema was the provider on both occasions as Ménez and Cabaye struck within the space of three minutes to lift France to the top of Group D – ahead of tonight's meeting between Sweden and England.
Laurent Blanc had urged his players to be awake from the first whistle during this game and, were there any danger of a drowsiness to match their start against England, an eardrum-shattering thunderclap during La Marseillaise brought everyone to instant attention. It also brought thick sheets of rain tumbling from above and, with less than five minutes gone, the referee had to bring proceedings to a halt.
Fears of a postponement were eventually allayed 58 minutes later as the match resumed, and Benzema sought to exploit any moisture on the ball when his curled shot nearly squeezed through goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov's grasp. The Real Madrid CF forward looked in eager mood as France sought to apply pressure from the off – as per Blanc's instructions – but clear chances were another matter and Andriy Yarmolenko got the locals going when he pulled a low effort wide.
Still, Les Bleus looked destined to take the lead just before the half-hour when Franck Ribéry sped beyond Taras Mikhalik to retrieve a loose pass down Ukraine's right and hooked a cross towards Benzema in the area. A deflection rerouted the ball to Ménez in front of goal, but, having already blasted one attempt over, the surprise starter fired straight at Pyatov.
If he was expected to handle that, the Ukraine keeper then excelled when clawing a Philippe Mexès header away from the top corner following Samir Nasri's free-kick delivery. It was Hugo Lloris, though, who had made the first impression between the two when he batted away a powerful Andriy Shevchenko strike, the veteran streaking clear behind right-back Mathieu Debuchy and unleashing thunder of his own.
Shevchenko threatened again soon after the resumption when he speared a shot narrowly off-target from the edge of the area, and it was evident that both teams had resolved to raise the tempo. By that point, Pyatov had denied Ménez when the midfielder had squirmed free down the left, but the keeper was helpless to prevent him opening the scoring when he received a pass from Benzema, skipped inside Yevhen Selin and stroked low inside the near post.
When it rains, it pours, of course, and three minutes later Pyatov was beaten in the same corner of his goal, Cabaye this time applying the low finish from another Benzema assist. The Newcastle United FC midfielder could have had a second when he rattled a post from distance and, with Ukraine reduced to long-range attempts at the other end, Nasri forced Pyatov to palm away a late free-kick. For France, the clouds are starting to clear.
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