Les Bleus were relieved to secure their place in the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as Group D runners-up after suffering their first defeat in 24 matches.
Sweden at least managed to salvage some pride, turning in their best performance of a disappointing tournament and claimed their first victory over their opponents in 12 games.
Sweden produced a magnificent 90 minutes of football which simply overwhelmed France. Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring with a spectacular strike before Seb Larsson sealed the win in stoppage time. France will have to improve, as they head into the quarter-finals to face world and European champions Spain at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk on Saturday night.
Sweden gave Laurent Blanc’s side a French lesson. Blanc had got his team playing with a certain panache, just like French sides of yesteryear, when they won the tournament in 1984 and 2000, but they simply failed to show up in this game.
France managed 21 points after 6 wins and 3 draws from 10 games in qualifying and were unbeaten in their last 23 games (16 wins, seven draws), the longest current run among all 16 teams taking part in Euro 2012 going into the game.
Overall, France were unbeaten in their last 11 games against Sweden (six wins, five draws), last losing to them in October 1969, so what joy the 2-0 victory gave Erik Hamren’s men.
On a hot and steamy night, a mass of Swedes swarmed all over Kiev as they came to support their side, despite already being eliminated from the competition.
Of the 70,000 strong crowd at the Olympic Stadium, over 15,000 travelled over from Scandanavia to see if Hamren’s side could produce a fond farewell to the ‘Yellow Army’ in style.
The French turned up in more numbers than they did in the previous two games, optimistic in their side’s chances of going far in this competition. All we were missing was the obligatory French Cockerel in the crowd.
Zlatan – The enigma
Ibrahimovic has shown us yet again what a talent he can be, that is if he turns up on the day. The AC Milan striker scored a goal which made sure that that there was a goal in every group game at this tournament. The 6 foot 5 inch forward showed tremendous agility to smash his right-foot volley past Lloris’ desparing dive.
Sweden put in a much-improved performance against France to ease the pressure on Hamren. The Swedish coach was feeling the heat after his side endured a 2-1 opening loss to Ukraine and then threw away a 2-1 lead against England to eventually lose 3-2 to go out of the tournament with a game to play.
The victory certainly restored the balance and possibly kept Hamren in the job he has held since 2009. Hamren will be looking to build on this platform and gain momentum heading into 2014 World Cup qualification.
Sweden are usually considered as a well-disciplined and organised side but that was hardly in evidence in the first two games of Group D.
Hamren’s side leaked five goals against the co-hosts and Three Lions, with few believing they would be able to keep a clean sheet against a French team looking to win and top the group.
But the back four held firm and showed a real fighting spirit, typified by Martin Olsson near the end when he produced an outstanding block to deny Benzema’s shot from hitting the target.
Ola Toivonen regained his place in the starting XI and should have arguably had two goals within the opening 10 minutes.
On three minutes, Toivonen outjumped the French defence to Martin Olsson’s floated cross but could only direct his free header over the bar. Then in the 10th minute, Toivonen sprung clear and rounded French keeper Hugo Lloris only to then hit the post from a tight angle.
In the second half Toivonen also saw a shot blocked by Lloris before he was replaced with 12 minutes to go. Despite his failure to find the net, he will be hoping to keep his place in the side when World Cup qualification gets under way.
Cool Kim Kallstrom
The midfielder is loved by the French public. He’s played his football in the country since 2004 and enjoyed a glittering career in Ligue 1. And the 29-year-old enjoyed pulling the strings throughout the match, using the little space there was in the middle of the park and seeking the lively Ola Toivonen as a target man.
The French media claim they are sightly brittle in defence, but there is no doubt they have the quality going forward. Blanc has seemingly settled on a 4-2-3-1 shape, which had been working well for Les Bleus in their opening two games, but M’Vila, Ben Arfa and Nasri failed to create an understanding and Ribery, Nasri and Benzema were starved of possession.
France seemed to becoming more and more fluid in attack worrying their opponents with Benzema coming deep, which allowed Nasri and co to break forward.
However, Sweden were clever and broke up possession well, especially in the latter stages of the contest where France are usually strong on the ball.
Although Blanc has been leaning towards a possession-based game, as we’ve now seen in the three group games, they have played in a pragmatic and cautious way and came up short against Sweden.
They were punished for being a little bit too casual in defence and finishing second in the group may come back to haunt them.
Blanc is a good tactician with gifted players at his disposal, but if they want to stake a real claim at winning this tournament, then he still has some work to do on the training pitch in the next few days.
Philippe Mexes picked up a needless booking midway through the second half as he went through the back of Toivonen. Referee Pedro Proenca was quick to go to his pocket which meant the centre-back would miss their quarter-final clash against the world and European Champions. Will he prove to be a big miss for France?