Playing against a silky looking French team on a slick surface is never the easiest of tasks and co-hosts Ukraine were quite simply out of their depth at a rain-sodden Donbass Arena. Here, we look at the talking points.
The Ukraine fans were out in force in Donetsk, but a bit like the weather, things ended in a damp squib for Oleg Blokhin’s regimental side. French flair won the day and put Les Bleus in command in Group D. Here, we look at the key talking points from a miserable night for the co-hosts.
In the midst of lightning and a heavy rain storm, it certainly didn’t dampen spirits at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk although many home fans soon rushed to the back of the stands to avoid getting soaked as the sides came out.
The first crack of lightning occurred during La Marseillaise and within four minutes referee Bjorn Kuipers ordered players to immediately leave the field due to the nature of the storm.
Strangely enough Ukraine head coach Blokhin said in his pre-match press conference: “I think the weather will play a role.” Well, it certainly did.
Ukrainian supporters were enjoying the freak storm as some even decided to go for a swim in between the seating. Whatever takes your fancy!
Menez the menace
Laurent Blanc elected to replace Florent Malouda with Jeremy Menez of PSG for this game, Malouda having struggled to make an impact against England. The hope for the French would be that Menez would cause problems on the right with his pace, and initially he did but he faded as the first half wore on. Too quick when flagged for offside while tapping the ball home on 15 minutes, he should have scored when presented with a great chance on 29, instead drilling the ball straight at Pyatov. Rightly carded for a foul on Shevchenko, he was lucky to stay on the pitch after a poor challenge on Selin just before half-time. But he made amends in perfect style seven minutes after the resumption, cutting in onto his left foot to give France the lead and justifying his inclusion.
Embarrassment of riches
Gael Clichy enjoyed an excellent end to the English season, and it could be argued that the only left-back better than him in the Premier League was his opposite number across Manchester, fellow countryman Patrice Evra. Laurent Blanc swapped the pair around for the Ukraine game, and Clichy enjoyed himself, getting forward more than he usually does in sky blue with some early forays. He had his hands full coping with the lively Yarmolenko, who shot through Clichy’s legs on 25 minutes. But he had increasingly less to do as the match progressed, and now Laurent Blanc will surely be tempted to stick with the same defence that shackled Ukraine so well when France take on Sweden.
Keeping the crowd quiet
With the vast majority of the stadium behind the hosts, France would have a job on their hands to keep them quiet. But a positive start did just that, and the first sighting of a Mexican wave on 28 minutes suggested they were doing a good job. The Donetsk crowd were noisier towards the end of the first half, but France silenced them in the perfect manner with those two quick goals after the break. England should take note on how to take home advantage out of the picture.
Nasri influential again
Like City team-mate Clichy, Nasri enjoyed an excellent end to the English season, shushing those who had criticised his performance levels after his big-money move to the Etihad Stadium. Man of the match and France’s goalscorer against England, he did not stand out as much in Donetsk but still turned in an excellent, string-pulling performance. Once France were ahead, Nasri was instrumental in sucking the life out of an increasingly frustrated Ukraine side.
Getting ahead, staying ahead
Once ahead, France provided a masterclass in how to kill off a prospective comeback. Any home side finding itself two goals down are likely to throw caution to the wind, but France kept probing away rather than allowing the hosts to come at them too much. The way they kept the ball in one sequence, which ended with Cabaye hitting the post, was a joy to behold. The boos from the home crowd at the end told their own story.
Andriy Yarmolenko factor
The youngster was instrumental in much of the home side’s movement down the wing during the first half and gave Les Bleus plenty to think about.
The 22-year-old is tall and strong and showed some excellent touches of the ball. No wonder the Dynamo Kiev star has been likened to his hero Andriy Shevchenko.
However, he didn’t quite showcase his talents and was brought off the field with 20 minutes remaining.
The early signs were the co-hosts seemed quite happy to settle for the draw. Oleg Blokhin set his side out to be rigid and hard to beat but things seemed to be going according to plan during the first half.
However, things soon changed when Les Bleus scored two quick-fire goals in the second half and quite frankly, Ukraine didn’t have a Plan B.