France’s 22-match unbeaten run will count for nothing today when they face similar challenges as they did against England in a Euro 2012 Group D clash against red-hot Ukraine in Donetsk.
Les Bleus, who have not won a game in a major championship since 2006, will have to make their presence count in the box or they could face the possibility of a third consecutive elimination in the first round after leaving Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup without a win.
Ukraine, in a state of euphoria after Andriy Shevchenko led them to an unexpected 2-1 win over Sweden, will qualify for the quarter-finals if they prevail and France have their backs to the wall.
Les Bleus were left frustrated after a 1-1 draw against England in their opener and Ukraine may also sit back with two banks of four and wait to hit them on the break.
It was hot in Donetsk on Monday and the Donbass Arena is again expected to turn into an oven today, with temperatures reaching 33oC.
England scored with a header and Andriy Shevchenko showed against Sweden that Ukraine could also be a force in the air.
Against England, France “lacked presence in front of goal,” coach Laurent Blanc conceded, even though they managed 15 attempts on target, but they were hardly dangerous as Karim Benzema played in deeper zones than expected, leaving the penalty area unoccupied.
“He did that, but he also does that with Real Madrid,” said Blanc, who waited until the 84th minute to make his first substitution as he was more looking to preserve a draw rather than go for a win.
Against Ukraine, Blanc expects his players to “loosen up” and bring more speed into the danger zone.
“Being timorous is the best way to get punished,” he said.
Blanc is expected to field the same starting lineup as against England, just as Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin will possibly keep faith in the team who sent the co-hosts’ fans into raptures.
However, with Blokhin, who is merciless with his players, Ukraine will take nothing for granted.
“We did not expect easy games at the tournament and we still have two very difficult games to play,” midfielder Anatoly Tymoshchuk said.
However, with a resurgent Shevchenko, Ukraine have what it takes to beat France for the first time in seven attempts.
Shevchenko will rely on winger Andriy Yarmolenko, whose run down the right flank and perfectly whipped cross set him up for the equalizer against Sweden.
The key for Ukraine, who have yet to win a game in Donetsk, will be too stay composed and prove that Monday’s win was no fluke.
“We’ve taken advantage of the draw between France and England, but we need to play some good football against them to prove we can qualify from the group,” Blokhin said.