Ukraine on top as big guns draw
Unfancied co-hosts Ukraine sit top of Group D after Roy Hodgson’s England earned a point from a dominant France side in Donetsk. It was a tale of two Manchester City players as Samir Nasri’s strike cancelled out a first International goal for Joleon Lescott.
The first half in the Donbass Arena started with England very much set up for the counter attack. Both Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker sat really deep in front of the back four and invited Les Bleus to come and attack.
Laurent Blanc’s side looked tidy on the ball and played some intricate stuff going forward with Nasri and Franck Ribery looking to threaten down the flanks. Full back Mathieu Debuchy was also a constant thorn in England’s side as he relentlessly overlapped on the right-hand side. For all the nice French football their forwards were outnumbered or closed down by a well-drilled England and it was Hodgson’s men who looked the more threatening when they did break. James Milner wasted the best chance when he was unable to finish from an angle after rounding Hugo Lloris in the French goal.
It was no surprise when England did take the lead albeit from a set piece. Gerrard’s superb curling delivery was met by Joleon Lescott at the back post and his header gave Lloris no chance.
France resumed with the same pretty patterns as before but could only fashion a solitary opportunity when Hart saved superbly from Alou Diarra’s header. Then out of nothing Samir Nasri found half a yard to shoot and curled in a low shot beating an unsighted Hart at his near post. Despite a lack of chances Blanc’s side had deservedly levelled.
France were unable to capitalise on their superiority in a nervy second half and were reduced to shooting from range by a dogged England. Welbeck deflected Yohan Cabaye’s drive behind and Hart saved a ferocious Karim Benzema strike late on.
The result gave an opportunity to one of the other sides Ukraine and Sweden to seize the initiative in the group and it was the co-hosts who took it, prevailing 2-1.
A goalless first half in Kiev saw the home side dominate possession but Sweden create the best chance with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s header hitting the post. All the action came in ten frantic second half minutes and it was the Swedes and Ibrahimovic who took the lead, the AC Milan striker finishing off a good move and cross by Kim Kallstrom.
Ukraine responded well though and were level after just three minutes through their veteran talisman Andriy Shevchenko. A move down the right hand side resulted in the forward heading home from Andriy Yarmalenko’s cross. The 35-year-old then completed a superb Ukraine turnaround a few minutes later, heading home a corner to leave Sweden shell-shocked.
It was a cracking start to the tournament for Ukraine who have given themselves every chance of progressing out of a tough group. They will face France next and will be hoping that Shevchenko can continue to roll back the years against the group favourites. Sweden meanwhile now face an uphill task and will need to get a result against England. With their toughest looking fixture out of the way it will be interesting to see if the Three Lions go on the attack.