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Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2012-06-15

France face Ukraine in a crucial Group D match today as Les Bleus go after three points to kick start their underwhelming Euro 2012 campaign. Ukraine’s talisman Andriy Shevchenko and searing heat lie in wait for the French squad.

France face the dual threat of searing temperatures and an ageing but potent striker when they come up against Ukraine in their second match of Euro 2012 on Friday.

After the disappointment of only managing a draw against an impotent England side on Monday, Les Bleus are under pressure to take all three points with a victory against co-hosts Ukraine.
Before the tournament began, today’s match at Donetsk’s Donbass Arena would have looked like a straight forward win for Laurent’s Blanc’s team, who trounced Ukraine 4 -1 in a friendly last year.
That result was part of a 22-match unbeaten run for Blanc’s team, which included victories over Brazil, Germany and England.
But all that was before the apprarent resurrection of Ukraine’s striker Andriy Shevchencko, who at the grand old age of 35 gave Euro 2012 a much-needed dose of romance by scoring both goals in his country’s 2-1 win over Sweden on Monday.
That victory ensured there will be a feverish atmosphere inside the Donbass Arena tonight as the home crowd urge Shevchenko and co. towards another memorable win.
Blanc knows all about the threat posed by the renowned ex-Milan and Chelsea striker.
“I had the pleasure of playing against him,” Blanc told reporters on Thursday. “Even though sometimes I wasn’t very happy at the end of games, as he’s very difficult to mark. He doesn’t have the legs of a 20-year-old anymore, but he makes such clever runs that he still manages to be efficient."
Blanc warned his players not to give the striker the space he needs to cause damage.
“Of course, we will have to keep a close eye on him,” Blanc said. “He has the art of making you forget about him and then all of a sudden he pops up where you never expected him. The great players always turn up for the big games, even at his age.”
The heat is on
Shevchenko is not the only weapon Ukraine hope to use to their advantage today.
Despite tonight’s match kicking off at 7pm local time, temperatures in Donetsk are once again expected to soar into the 30s, just as they did when France took on England in the same stadium on Monday.
The heat factor has not been lost on Blanc, who pushed back Thrusday’s training session by three hours to spare his players the worst of the conditions.
“When a team wants to play football, you have to keep moving constantly, but the stadium is like an oven,” he said.
The French press also fear the heat could provide a significant and ‘unfair’ advantage to the home team.
“By being the only team in Group D to play twice at 7pm, France face an unfamiliar and unfair handicap,” wrote L’Equipe’s Vincent Duluc.“By playing almost three hours later than France did in their first game, Ukraine did not expend the same energy as Les Bleus did against England on the sweltering turf of Donetsk.”
The heat factor has led to much speculation over whether Blanc will alter his starting line up from that which began against England.
Step forward Benzema
Despite the manager speculating yesterday that he could benchSamir Nasri to give him a rest, the Manchester City player, who scored France’s equalising goal against England, is expected to start against Ukraine.
The one probable change Blanc will make is to bring in Rennes’ Yann M’Vila in place of Alou Diarra in the centre of midfield.
Ukraine v France match suspended due to torrential rain

AFP - The Ukraine v France Euro 2012 Group A match was suspended because of torrential rain here on Friday.

The Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers ordered the teams off seven minutes into the game with a violent thunderstorm raging around them.

"The match has been temporarily suspended," announced the stadium announcer.

Should the match be abandoned it will be played on Saturday.

Once again, the French will be looking to their talisman Karim Benzema to score the goals to give France a win that would give them their first victory in the finals of a tournament since 2006.
The Real Madrid striker rarely threatened against England but has all the powers needed to fire France to victory.
“Its clear Benzema is the best player France has at the Euros and now he must becoeme the team’s leader,” ex-France international Bixente Lizarazu told L’Equipe. “He must become a key player for the France team in a finals of an international tournament. Only with a Benzema on top form can the French team go far at Euro 2012.”

For their part, Ukraine insist they hold no fear of a French team many have tipped as dark horses to take home the Euro 2012 title.

“We are not afraid of the team, nor of individual players,” said midfielder Serhiy Nazarenko. “If we were afraid, we’d better go the beach.”


Date created : 2012-06-15

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