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|EURO 2012 Preview: Ukraine - France|
Confidence will be sky high after Ukraine claimed all three points against Sweden in their opening EURO 2012 encounter on Matchday 1. Can they also grab maximum points against the favourites for the Group and an outsider for the tournament title in France?
Friday, 15 June 2012
Venue – Donbass Arena, Ukraine
Local Kick-off Time: 19:00
Co-hosts Ukraine, many people felt, had little to no chance of advancing through to the knockout stage of EURO 2012, let alone grabbing a point against the likes of heavyweights France, England and Scandinavian giant-killers Sweden.
But Oleg Blokhin's men snatched all three points away from fellow Yellow-Blues in Sweden when talisman Andriy Shevchenko scored twice in the space of seven minutes to seal a come-from-behind 2-1 win and send the 65,000-strong Kiev fans into raptures. But it wasn't even the fact that the former AC Milan and Chelsea hitman managed to get his name on the scoresheet.
Blokhin's troops played an attacking brand of football, utilising the full width of the pitch. Players such as Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko constantly tested the likes of Martin Olsson, Sebastian Larsson and Mikael Lustig. And defensively, keeping Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rosenberg quiet for big periods of the match will also be regarded in good fashion.
With all the talk surrounding the French being on their rather impressive midfield, Laurent Blanc's team failed to light up the stage against cross-channel rivals England on Matchday 1. The Three Lions easily kept star striker Karim Benzema at bay, whilst it took a blast from outside a congested box in the first-half by Samir Nasri to get Les Bleus on the scoresheet, and earn a 1-1 draw.
The Manchester City midfielder was on top form, and with the expected return of defensive midfielder Yann M'Villa from injury, Blanc's men will be at full-strength in that department.
Defensively, Adil Rami and Philippe Mexes were criticised for their inability to close down some of the spaces allowed in the England match, especially when Joleon Lescott was allowed to waltz in and header home. The centre-back duo will need to be on song, as 35-year-old Shevchenko is known for capitalising when given an inch.
PLAYER TO WATCH: FRANCK RIBERY
The left-winger would say he had a poor game by his lofty expectations, but the Bayern Munich man will need to fire if Les Bleus are to secure their first win of the tournament.
With the return of M'Villa, the 29-year-old will feel much more secure when advancing forward, knowing he will have the cover behind him. Alou Diarra did admirably when he was granted the opportunity against England, but Laurent Blanc will rush the new Arsenal signing in.
Ribery's season was one of his better ones in recent memory, but with no titles to show for it, he will be aiming to not only get an assist to his French team-mate in Benzema, but also score. He will also hope Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra can fill the gaping hole behind him when advancing up the pitch like Daniel Alaba was able to do at club level in the Bundesliga.
Ukraine's Anatoliy Tymoshcuk will know's Ribery's movements up the pitch like the back of his hand - having trained alongside one another week-in, week-out for the past few seasons - so it should make for a fascinating contest should the defensive midfielder opt to provide an extra man down the flank.
PREDICTION: Ukraine 0-2 France