Second-half goals by Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye gave France a 2-0 victory over the Ukrainians Friday at the European championship in Donetsk, Ukraine.
The match was halted for 55 minutes as thunder and lightning, mixed in with heavy rain, descended down the Donbass Arena.
When the action resumed both sides attacked in search of the opening goal.
Ukraine had high expectations of securing Group D with a win, particularly after its comeback victory over Sweden.
The hopes only heightened as goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov was brilliant in the first half, denying two glorious scoring chances by France in a 10 minute span. He first stopped Menez from close range when the French forward pounced on a loose ball, and then knocked away a strong header from Karim Benzema along the left post.
Between those two saves came Ukraine’s best opportunity as striker Andriy Shevchenko raced alone along the left side, but his shot was controlled by French goalie Hugo Lloris.
The French were mindful of the 2004 European Footballer of the year, who sunk Sweden with two goals.
But France put the game away in a three-minute sequence to start the second half. Menez began things off in the 53rd minute by firing a Benzema pass by Pyatov.
Any hope of a repeat Ukraine rally was quickly vanished three minutes later.
Once again it was Benzema who set up a wonderful goal, spotting Cabaye breaking in between two defenders before beating Pyatov to the right side.
The goal silenced a stunned Ukraine capacity crowd desperate to see their team clinch the group.
What this result means
- France takes over top spot in Group D with four points, leading England by goal differential. A victory over Sweden in the final game would secure the group for France, which would move on to the quarter-finals. The Ukraine would need to beat England if its hopes to advance.
The winning goal
- As France’s most dangerous player in the first half, Menez struck the biggest blow of the game after taking a pass from Benzema, he then cut across the box and unleashed a left-footed shot through a defender’s leg and into the bottom right corner, past Pyatov.
Man of the match
- Benzema set up both goals with two timely passes, allowing Menez and Cabaye to convert their chances into goals.
The French perspective
- "We scored twice and could have had more. We have a lot of potential. I congratulated my players and the Ukrainian players. It was a good match with both teams trying to attack." — France coach Laurent Blanc
The Ukraine perspective
- "France is probably one of the favourites. Some players thought we were already in the quarterfinals. We will have a serious conversation with them. … It is not possible to win the first game and play the second like this." — Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin