DONETSK-France’s 22-match unbeaten run will count for nothing on Friday when they will 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 opening game 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 on Friday with temperatures reaching 33 degrees.
England scored with a header on Monday 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 box 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, however, is expected to field the same starting lineup than against England, just as Blokhin will possibly keep faith in the team who sent the co-host country into raptures.
But with Blokhin, who is merciless with his players, Ukraine will take nothing for granted.
“We did not expect easy games at the tournament and still have two very difficult games to play,” said midfielder Anatoly Tymoshchuk.
With a resurgent Shevchenko, however, 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 up ‘Sheva’ for the equaliser against Sweden.
The key for Ukraine, who have yet to win a game in Donetsk, will be too stay composed at the back to prove that Monday’s win was no fluke.
“We’ve taken advantage of the draw between France and England but need to play some good football against them to prove we can qualify from the group,” said Blokhin.