KIEV – France put six years of finals misery behind them on Friday to beat Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine 2-0 in their Group D clash and record their first victory at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup, where they finished runners-up.
In doing so in a match that was under threat after a dramatic thunderstorm forced it to be suspended shortly after the initial kick-off they leapfrogged Ukraine in the table.
The Euro 2000 champions were joined on four points later on Friday by England, who won a thrilling encounter against Sweden 3-2 and as a result ended Swedish interest with regards to reaching the last eight.
France, who extended their unbeaten run under Laurent Blanc to 23 games, had fought out an uninspiring 1-1 draw with England in their first game but were in more adventurous form against the Ukrainians.
However, they had to wait till the second-half for their efforts to be rewarded as goals by Jeremy Menez – who had been preferred to Florent Malouda – and Yohan Cabaye secured the three points.
It left Blanc not only relieved that the match had gone ahead and pleased to have put themselves in an excellent position to progress but also waxing lyrical over Paris Saint Germain winger Menez’s performance.
“(Menez) is someone who needs confidence but he has an increasingly rare quality, which is the ability to play behind the opposition defence.
“We knew Ukraine would leave space. They try to play football — it’s the philosophy of their coach — but they leave lots of space. Jeremy is a quick player and he was able to exploit it.
“He still needs international experience but tonight was very encouraging for him.”
His Ukraine counterpart Oleg Blokhin was left disappointed by the home fans’ booing of the team and also his players seemingly giving up after France scored their second.
“I didn’t like the way that, after the second goal, my team stopped playing,” said the 59-year-old former Ballon d’Or winner.
“We conceded the first goal from a counter-attack and everything went wrong from that moment. We couldn’t predict it. And then we conceded the second goal and it was all over.”
England made life difficult themselves before the introduction of Theo Walcott for the ineffective James Milner on the hour turned the game, the Arsenal star scoring to make it 2-2 three minutes after he came on.
He then turned provider, though, Danny Welbeck’s goal owed much to the scorer’s brilliant improvised back heel.
England manager Roy Hodgson, who has now overseen three wins and a draw in his four matches in charge since being the surprise choice to replace Fabio Capello, said that this was a worthy win against a good side.
“I must emphasise we’ve got a good victory against a team with a lot of experience and experience in tournament football,” Hodgson told BBC radio.
Hodgson also has the bonus of being able to call on Wayne Rooney – who was suspended for the first two games – for the final group game against Ukraine and joked what might happen if he were to ignore him.
“If I did make the decision to leave him out all hell would break loose in the dressing room,” he said.
Hodgson’s Swedish counterpart Erik Hamren had called his players cowards after their 2-1 defeat by Ukraine but he had no complaints this time.
“We showed the attitude I wanted to see. I am proud of my players,” said the 54-year-old, who has been in the job since 2009.
“But to win one must have a little luck. We did so on our first (a Glen Johnson own goal) but over the two matches we were lacking it.
“They were a lot more effective than us. I feel really really bad for the players. I am responsible for the team, and I assume my responsiblities for this result.”
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