The second round of Group D matches kicks off with hosts and group leaders Ukraine taking on France in Donetsk. Both teams have reason to be cheerful at how their tournaments have started, but for the hosts this presents a much stiffer test.
Thanks to Andriy Shevchenko’s two goals, Ukraine beat Sweden in their opening game. Oleg Blokhin’s men had to come from a goal behind but in the end they got the win, to the delight of the partisan crowd. With Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka running the wings, showing pace and creativity, the Ukrainians showed enough to concern France coach Laurent Blanc.
Indeed, the two wide men, rather than star striker Shevchenko, could be the match winners as France tend to leave their full backs exposed. Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery are not known for their defensive diligence, and if the Ukrainian defence can neuter the duo’s attacking threat then they could be in for a good evening in the Donbass Arena.
That is a big if, however. France were the more aggressive team against England but only offered a threat from distance against a resolute England side. Ukraine are not as solid at the back, and the home crowd will be urging their men to get forward, which may open up space for the French to attack. They could also look to exploit the flanks as the Ukrainian full backs like to get forward and were suspect against Sweden.
Blanc could select Olivier Giroud upfront to provide an aerial threat, with Karim Benzema operating behind him. Zlatan Ibrahimovic exposed a weakness in the Ukrainian central defence that a goal scorer like Giroud could exploit. There is a lot of clamour for the introduction of the Montpellier striker, but Blanc may be hesitant to be so bold against a host nation, at least from the start.
Yann M’Vila is set to return and offers more dynamism in the middle of the park than Alou Diarra, and apart from Giroud no other changes are predicted. Ukraine are also likely to field the same starting eleven.
France need to avoid losing, while Ukraine will be content with a point and hope they can take something off England in their final game. All signs say this will be a draw but both teams will look to be on the front foot and I can see this being a very open game. If Ukraine score first it could be a real humdinger.
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