| France’s Yohan Cabaye (right) scores past Ukrainian Oleh Gusev, in Donetsk, on Friday. (AFP)
Donetsk: There was rain, thunder and lightning in Donetsk on Friday but, ultimately, only calm and quiet after the storm.
Despite a 56-minute interruption due to the extraordinary weather conditions, France re-emerged to efficiently dispatch Ukraine, the tournament co-hosts, 2-0 and put themselves within reach of a place in the quarter finals.
After the euphoria of Ukraine’s improbable 2-1 victory over Sweden on Monday, the Donbass Arena fell silent last night. Two goals in a clinical four-minute second-half period was sufficient to extend France’s unbeaten sequence to 23 games and also send out the message that they are legitimate contenders to win this competition.
Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and Yohan Cabaye were especially outstanding.
Benzema provided the assist for both goals, Cabaye sealed France’s win with a precise finish while Ribery’s running down the left constantly created space for his teammates.
While Oleg Blokhin, the Ukraine coach, had understandably kept faith with the team which began the competition by memorably beating Sweden, Laurent Blanc’s dissatisfaction with France’s 1-1 draw against England resulted in two changes.
Patrice Evra, the Manchester United left-back, was the most notable omission, with his recent lack of form punished by Blanc’s decision to start with his Manchester City rival Gael Clichy. Florent Malouda was also sacrificed, allowing Jeremy Menez a start to the right of a typically fluid French midfield.
With the rain-storm unsettling both teams, there were no clear chances for either team before referee Bjorn Kuipers decided in the fifth minute that the match should be suspended until the weather improved. When the two teams did reappear almost an hour later, France were quick to assert themselves and take control of possession.
Ribery had alert to pounce on a terribly under-hit back-pass from Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Ukraine’s usually reliable holding midfielder, and sprinted into space behind the defence. His cross eluded Benzema but did find Menez whose shot was superbly smothered by Andrei Pyatov, the Ukraine goalkeeper.
Pyatov then produced another moment of brilliance to deny Philippe Mexes, with the centre-back emerging unmarked on the far-post but unable to get sufficient power and accuracy on his header to prevent Pyatov from scrambling across his goal to make the save.
Ribery and Benzema then combined before releasing Menez, who shifted the ball inside Yavhen Selin and drilled an accurate left-footed finish past Pyatov.
Ukraine will point out that Menez was fortunate to even be on the pitch after escaping without a caution, after he had already been booked, for a dangerous tackle on Selin.
Yet within four minutes, it was 2-0 to France. Benzema, once again, was involved, picking out the run into the penalty area of Cabaye.
Oleg Gusev had got himself into a poor position and was unable to recover, with the midfielder clinically aiming his finish past Pyatov.