KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Ukraine’s Euro 2012 hopes were dampened by a 2-0 defeat by France in a Group D game that was suspended for 55 minutes because of a thunderstorm on Friday, causing England’s match against Sweden to be delayed.
Superb goals from Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye in the second half made France look like real contenders for the title and lit up the Donbass Arena in Donetsk much like the lightning flashes had done at the start of the Group D match.
Thunder claps drowned out the anthems before the referee took the players off after five minutes of heavy rain and slippery play as fans in uncovered seats scampered up the stands.
The rain eased off to allow the game to resume at 0-0 after groundstaff worked wonders on the soaked pitch and despite the upheaval the two sides put on another thrilling show with chances at both ends.
Apart from the continually excellent football through the last fortnight, a near torrent of bad news has hit the biggest multi-city sporting event ever held in Eastern Europe.
The disturbing underbelly of the tournament, co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, was again in focus with European soccer’s governing body UEFA continuing its almost daily ritual of opening investigations and fining nations for crowd problems.
It is looking into reports of banana throwing at Thursday’s 1-1 draw between Croatia and Italy, who started with black striker Mario Balotelli, in the latest grim update.
The Donetsk game may have surprised many with its quality given the conditions but the defeat stunned the Ukrainian fans who had been boosted by the opening win over Sweden and will now fret about their progress to the quarter-finals.
Purists will fear the flowing soccer seen on previous days might not continue in Friday’s late Group D game between England and Sweden, whose strengths lie in organisation and doggedness rather than flair.
The match in Kiev was put back 15 minutes to prevent an overlap with the delayed early game.
As well as looking into reports about the banana, which the Italy camp said they knew nothing about, UEFA fined Croatia $31,500 for the throwing of fireworks and missiles and a pitch invasion by a supporter during their opening win over Ireland.
Croatia also incurred the wrath of Italy, who officially complained to UEFA over their national anthem being booed during Thursday’s match as well as in the first group game against Spain.
Italian media, used to match-fixing back home, has become obsessed with fears that Croatia and Spain will contrive a 2-2 draw in their last match to knock Cesare Prandelli’s team out whatever they do against Ireland on Monday.
Coach Prandelli rejected any notion of a fix.
“Spain will go on the field to win like they have always done in recent years,” he said.
“After all their great football, the great spectacle, the fact everyone wants to copy their team, we think they’d think about conspiracies? Impossible.”
Monday’s Spain game will thus be closely watched and so will the underpants of all players at the tournament after UEFA opened a disciplinary case against Denmark’s Niklas Bendtner for revealing a betting firm’s logo during Wednesday’s loss to Portugal.
UEFA has strict rules against ambush marketing with sponsors paying millions to be associated with the European Championship.
Negative headlines have at times dominated the three-week tournament which ends on July 1, the street fights between Poland and Russia fans on Tuesday being the starkest reminder that all is not well.
Tensions from communist times have rumbled beneath the surface and Poland’s public broadcaster apologised on Friday for showing the Soviet flag on one of its newscasts giving the result of the match with Russia.
The Euros almost never happened as planned with UEFA consistently warning Ukraine about slow preparations over the past few years.
However, six-times world pole vault champion Sergei Bubka, president of the Ukrainian Olympic committee, believes the tournament has been a success and hopes it will help bring the Olympic Games to Ukraine.
“For me, my personal dream is that one day it would be great to host the Games here,” Bubka told Reuters.
Editing by Ed Osmond