France drew a line under
embarrassing first-round exits at two major championships when
they scraped into the Euro 2012 quarter-finals in ugly fashion
following a 2-0 defeat by eliminated Sweden on Tuesday.
On a hot and humid night at the Olympic stadium, Les Bleus,
who face European and world champions Spain in Donetsk on
Saturday, were undone by a sublime Zlatan Ibrahimovic strike and
a late goal from Sebastian Larsson and finished second in Group
D behind England.
"We were prepared for tough game," France coach Laurent
Blanc told reporters. "We didn't expect it to be so difficult.
We were not strong enough in the tackles.
"I think Sweden played with lot of heart they gave
everything, physically much better than us.
"In their ranks have a player could can make a difference in
a game," Blanc added. "If we analyse the game I think we
The result, which ended a 23-match unbeaten run, brought
France down to earth after a convincing 2-0 win over co-hosts
Ukraine with the central defence looking very shaky once again.
Captain Hugo Lloris, however, pulled off a series of
stunning saves to keep his team afloat after Ibrahimovic had
sent a superb volley into the net in the 54th minute.
Blanc's defensive puzzle may have been solved by Philippe
Mexes himself, who had a night to forget but will miss the
quarter-final through suspension.
At least, France will have a chance to redeem themselves
after being knocked out in the first round of Euro 2008 and the
2010 World Cup amid off-pitch controversy.
They will clearly need to do that against defending
champions Spain but they have shown they cannot be written off
and have never lost a competitive game against the Spaniards.
In 2006, France struggled in the first round of the World
Cup, but found their form to see off Spain in the last 16 and
went on to reach the final.
France, who suffered their first defeat by Sweden since
1969, will know they can rely on the superb Lloris.
The keeper forced Ola Toivonen wide in the early stages
after the striker was allowed to run free following a defensive
blunder by Mexes.
France enjoyed long spells of possession but lacked
sharpness and clearly missed the neat passing of Yohan Cabaye,
who was rested in favour of Yann Mvila.
Hatem Ben Arfa, named in the starting lineup in place of
Jeremy Menez, was a pale shadow of his normal talented self and
was replaced in the second half as France looked extremely
The match swung Sweden's way when Ibrahimovic produced his
magic moment and Erik Hamren's side continued to pile on the
Lloris denied Sebastian Larsson and Christian Wilhelmsson
and although there was nothing he could do when the former
thumped a volley into the net, he spared his team more
embarrassment by diving at the latter's feet in stoppage time.
Karim Benzema, Mvila and Nasri all tried their luck but it
was Franck Ribery who carried the main threat to the Swedish
There was a minute's silence before kickoff in memory of
French TV commentator Thierry Roland, a close friend of UEFA
president Michel Platini who died last weekend after covering
every World Cup since 1962.
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