France boosted its hopes of reaching the Euro 2012 quarterfinals with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Ukraine in a rain-delayed Group D fixture in Kiev.
Having been forced to leave the pitch after only four minutes due to a massive storm, play resumed nearly an hour later, but it wasn’t until the second half that the killer blows were dealt, with Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scoring within four minutes of each other to seal the points for Les Bleus.
Laurent Blanc made two changes to the France side that drew with England on Monday, dropping Patrice Evra in favor of Gael Clichy, while Menez replaced Florent Malouda in midfield. Meanwhile, Ukraine remained unchanged from its 2-1 win over Sweden, with Andriy Shevchenko’s brace against the Scandinavians keeping him in the side.
Shortly before kick-off the heavens opened, with several booming claps of thunder interrupting the national anthems. The storm continued as the game started, and the referee had no choice but to lead the players off the pitch with only four minutes on the clock.
The match got back underway almost an hour later, and France immediately took charge of the game, dominating the early possession. Menez had a goal ruled out for offside, but Blanc’s side continued to look far more threatening than the co-hosts.
Les Bleus spurned a superb chance just before the half-hour when Franck Ribery’s ball across the box worked all the way through to the onrushing Menez, and the Paris Saint-Germain winger forced a fine save from Pyatov.
After a period of pressure from Ukraine, France moved up the other end and Ribery won a free-kick, which Philippe Mexes rose highest to meet in the box and blast a header towards goal, but it was kept out by another excellent save from Pyatov.
Marko Devic replaced the barely involved Andriy Voronin at the break, but it was France which started the second half brightly. Menez tested Pyatov yet again, striking low from the left and the Ukraine shot-stopper stood firm once again.
Shevchenko then showed a superb moment of class at the other end, collecting the ball and unleashing a long-range effort which flew inches over. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk had another effort moments later, blasting over from the edge of the box as the game started to open up.
And it wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken. On 52 minutes Benzema found Menez in the area, and the winger cut inside on to his left foot and slotted a fine strike inside Pyatov’s near post to give Blanc’s side the lead.
France had its tails up, and Benzema looked lively. The Real Madrid striker played a delightful through-ball to Cabaye four minutes later, and the midfielder shrugged off a challenge before finishing low across goal to double the advantage.
After a distinctly flat period in which France monopolized possession, the ball fell again to Cabaye who rocketed a strike from outside the box, and Pyatov could only watch as it rattled against his post and back out.
The partisan crowd had little to cheer as the match entered the latter stages, and even a free-kick curled over by substitute Oleksandr Aliyev failed to improve the dampened moods of the Ukraine supporters.
Blanc’s side held on for the win as the game petered out to its conclusion, and have given themselves a solid platform for their final Group D fixture when they take on Sweden.