Coming into Euro 2012, France were seen as dark horse title contenders; after Friday's 2-0 victory over Ukraine, Les Bleus have proven themselves to be far more than that.
It was a wild match from the beginning, one that had to be stopped due to tempestuous storms that battered Donetsk and flooded the pitch for a period of time.
Once the game got underway, it would be the French that would batter both the Ukrainians and their fans into submission.
Unlike their grinding draw with England in their opener, the French came out looking to attack, and, more importantly, to score. Even the back line, hardly a bastion of defensive fortitude on this side, seemed geared towards pressuring a vulnerable Ukrainian defense. While it took them more than a full 45 minutes to find the opener, few expected the French to end this clash goalless, given the success offensive players Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and company were finding.
The French attack was relentless as well; as soon as the Ukrainians would clear the defensive third, the French would regain possession and push the issue once more.
It was the kind of performance that can turn heads and catch the attention of fans the world over, and now, suddenly, France look awfully strong as we move into the final round of group stage matches.
Gone are the rumblings of dissent in the ranks; this team, for all intents and purposes seems united in their cause and desire to erase the debacle of South Africa from the world's consciousness. And, if the French have their heads on right, one can't help but list them among the tournament favorites.
After all, few teams can boast the range and depth of talent in the front line and in the midfield that the French possess. They can play a variety of styles and speeds, and play almost all of them well. They can run and attack, they can slow things down and grind out wins, and, most importantly, they've shown the kind of unity they've lacked in the past.
Does that mean Les Bleus are flawless? Hardly; their defense still poses serious concerns; the back line is inconsistent, particularly on the edges, and Ukraine is hardly an elite offensive club capable of exploiting France's weaknesses at will, and even they had several extremely good chances to score on the counterattack. On top of that, the Ukrainian defense isn't exactly sturdy, but it still took the French 53 minutes to find a crack they could exploit.
But, after this showing, France have made it clear that they are capable of big things now that their heads seem to be screwed on right, and are likely to stick around in Ukraine and Poland for quite a while now. If they can replicate this performance a few more times, they could be hoisting a cup at the end of the month.
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