Three thoughts from France's 2-0 victory over co-host Ukraine from Donetsk, Ukraine.
1. The tactical and personnel changes of Laurent Blanc worked perfectly. France's 4-3-2-1 against England, with Samir Nasri and Franck Ribéry on either side of Karim Benzema, was switched to a 4-2-3-1 against Ukraine. In the latter formation, Nasri was side of Ribéry and Jérémy Ménez, who came in for Chelsea's Florent Malouda.
The changes seemed subtle, but they turned out to be pivotal. Nasri benefited immensely from playing in his favorite position, seeing the ball a lot more in the final third and having three options for passes available. As a result, his unfortunate tendency to venture down blind alleys when playing on the wing was completely negated. Ménez also had a good game, keeping his position on the right to stretch the leggy Ukraine defense. His goal broke the deadlock for Les Bleus and gave a visible lift to the rest of the team.
As France was able to control the midfield with only one out-and-out holding player -- Alou Diarra of Marseille -- it had five men available to attack. The passing and movement was simply too much for the hosts. Despite not scoring, Benzema looked a lot less isolated than he did against England. The striker set up both goals with excellent passes.
2. The high French line was poison for Ukraine's strikers. Lack of pace at the heart of its defense was a big problem for France against England. In this match, however, it played a very high line, which seemed counterintuitive: The less pace a team has, the deeper it typically has to defend. Fortunately for Blanc's men, Ukraine has the competition's slowest center forward in Andriy Shevchenko. He cannot hurt an opponent from outside the box and has to rely on dead-ball situations or services from the wings, neither of which was forthcoming in this match. Man City's Gaël Clichy, in particular, justified his inclusion ahead of Patrice Evra by keeping Ukraine's scoring threat on the right, Andriy Yarmolenko, quiet.
3. Can Franck Ribéry finally deliver for France? The 29-year-old was voted "Man of the Match" after this performance. He was at the heart of many good developments for France, as he never stopped running and tore the Ukraine defense apart with his dribbling. Yet, for all of his success, there persisted a nagging sense that Ribéry only displayed glimpses of what he's capable of.
Ever since Ribéry burst onto the scene as a late addition to the 2006 World Cup squad, France has been waiting on an authoritative tournament from him. Les Bleus desire the kind of consistent brilliance that elevates him to the ranks of the true greats, the Zidanes and Platinis. Friday night was just a start, but perhaps Ribéry is beginning to fulfill his promise at last.