Man of the Match: In the first half, Karim Benzema was just like the rest of his teammates: Better than Monday but still not good enough in the final third. That changed in the second half, when Benzema assisted on each of France’s goals. On the first, Benzema took a ball from the left and quickly switched it to the right, giving Jeremy Menez the change to come onto his left foot for the opening goal. On the second, Benzema dropped back to take a ball 30 yards out then turned and delivered a cutting pass to Yoann Cabaye, who’d jumped into the box. From there, it was an easy finish.
NBC Sports: France beats co-host Ukraine 2-0 in Group D
Packaged for takeaway:
- Players were pulled off the pitch in the fifth minute as thunder cracked around the Donbass Arena. Cameras showed lightning streaming above the venue as rain dropped, collecting in streams that flowed down the concrete aisles.
- It was 55 minutes before the game restarted, and credit to whomever designed the field, the huge puddles that had collected during the hour’s downtime had dissipated. On the field, the match was not effected by the storm.
- Laurent Blanc made two changes to his team (before the game; not after the break). Gael Clichy came in at left back for Patrice Evra while Jeremy Menez started in place of Florent Malouda. The latter change pushed Samir Nasri to the middle and France to a 4-2-3-1 (from a 4-3-3). Because the game was played so differently than Monday’s with England, it’s hard to say if the change in formation mattered.
- The change in personnel certainly did. Not only did Clichy avoid the silly error Evra made on England’s goal, but Menez was France’s first scorer. A second half counter played from Franck Ribery through Benzema to Menez allowed the PSG attacker to cut in, turning left back Yevhen Selin. His shot from 16 yards nestled inside the right post for the opening goal.
- To that point, the second half had been an open affair (after a first 45 that saw only one chance for each team). Ukraine had been hitting France on the counter and generated two very good chances before the French broke through.
- Through that first half, though, you got the feeling Ukraine might be walking on eggshells. Their defense played very well – all four defenders putting in strong halves – but there was a danger. If there was any let up in the second half, France would break through. Were those performances sustainable? On the first goal, there wasn’t a let up as much as the defense was hung out to dry a bit, with France executing a great counter-counter attack. Of course that counter attack started through the defense’e right while Oleh Gusev was caught up field.
- Minutes after breaking through, France put it away, with Yoann Cabaye’s goal capping a night of increased activity for the Newcastle midfielder. Against England, with the Three Lions so packed in, he didn’t have chances to jump into anything but a sea of white. On Friday, as play built on the right, he found a chance to jump into the left of the area, and Benzema found him.
- Ukraine’s wide play that was so good against Sweden (and deemed so important before the match) was a let down. France didn’t do anything special to stop it. It was just an execution issue. Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka had plenty of touches and had their opportunities to take on French defenders. They just didn’t deliver.
- Part of the problem may have been Sergey Nazarenko. So good pushing the ball wide versus Sweden, the veteran midfielder did not have a good game. He was the team’s first sub.
- France now moves top of the group ahead of their Tuesday match with Sweden. England can join them later today, if the Three Lions beat the Swedes.
- For Ukraine, it’s a disappointing result – a fall back to Earth – but they’re far from done. If they beat England on Tuesday, they’re through to the quarterfinals.
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