Game in a sentence
The skies open up in the first half and so does the Ukrainian defense in the second, as Menez and Cabaye ease France to four points in Group D.
- Both teams put out a 4-2-3-1. Ukraine’s team was identical to the one against Sweden including Andriy Shevchenko up front, but France opted for Jeremy Menez on the front right, with Samir Nasri in the hole and Karim Benzema up front. Malouda went to the bench while Diarra and Cabaye played in front of the back four. Clichy interestingly replaced Patrice Evra in left back.
- There was an hour long rain/lightning delay after only four minutes of play that really messed up my day and led to a lot of frantic Twitter research into whether something like this had ever happened before. It did, once in the 1974 World Cup in a game between Germany and Poland. You’re welcome. There was also some chatter about how it would affect the teams’ focus and fitness. The answer? Not much: they both looked incredibly up for it after the delay. Shit happens.
- Ukraine played a little similarly to England in that they were careful to ensure a packed midfield forced the wingers to work hard to find a defense-splitting pass on the flanks or through the middle. It appeared for a second that Nasri had played in Menez but he was about one thousand miles offside. Other than that, Ukraine held firm, and were far more lively/effective than England in playing on the break, particularly on a few cross field passes that caught France out. Still, Ukraine only managed their first shot by the 25 minute mark, so they didn’t exactly punish Hugo Lloris at any point.
- The French defense looked shaky on more than one occasion. Mexes played Shevchenko onside on a searching ball in the first half hour of play, and then failed to properly clear the ball on a Ukraine corner. Ukraine looked most threatening on the break, and Sheva played a strong role up front. Lloris also looked a little shaky, miskicking a routine clearance in the early stages of the first half.
- The Ukraine keeper Adriy Pyatov was phenomenal in goal, with several important saves, most memorably on Mexes on a strong header from a Nasri free-kick.
- There would be no stopping Jeremy Menez. The Paris St. Germain player justified his inclusion in the squad (that’s the cliche right?) by cutting inside and slotting past Pyatov early in the second half after a very open start for both sides, and only minutes after Shevchenko threatened with two fizzing shots that whizzed by and over the net respectively.
- The French attacking quad though really got going and Benzema played Cabaye through on a marvelous pass that allowed him to turn and score in the centre of the box in the 55th minute, a mere three minutes after the first game. From then on France dominated the centre of the Ukraine area, maintaining possession with aplomb. In doing so, they perhaps underlined the wisdom of Roy Hodgson’s stodgy approach with England.
- Ukraine managed to threaten here and there in between, particularly on run via Devic in the 71st, and a missed shot from Yarmolenko a little earlier. They also threatened a free kick via Aliev, who over hit it, not the first time we’ve seen the Tango fly over this tournament. But they fizzled out and France simply ran the game down. Oleg Blokhin’s side is still in the race to get out of the group however, while Laurent Blanc can take satisfaction in the fact his changes worked to perfection.