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France-Ukraine Preview

By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN

STATS Senior Writer

(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Co-hosts Ukraine partied well into the Kiev night after a resounding opening performance by Andriy Shevchenko put them on top of Group D.

They will travel east to the mining town of Donetsk with an eye on reaching the knockout phases of the European Championships as they face Laurent Blanc's France on Friday night.

Making their tournament debut, Ukraine fell behind by a goal in the second half Monday against Sweden before Shevchenko's brace gave the home side a 2-1 victory and three crucial points.

The 35-year-old Shevchenko is playing his last tournament for Ukraine after there were questions whether he would even be included in Oleg Blokhin's line-up. In addition, he was bothered by numerous injuries but put all of that to rest on a frenzied night in the nation's capital.

"I feel that I am 10 years younger," Shevchenko said. "I really couldn't imagine I could play in the European Championship. I had a lot of problems with my knee and my back."

The player affectionately known as 'Sheva' to his adoring fans has made the home nation begin to dream.

"There were a lot of critics who asked why he was on the team," Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov said. "Now he has shut them up."

Shevchenko said before the tournament that he wasn't sure if he could play all three group matches so it's not even clear how much action the striker will see Friday.

Blanc, meanwhile, knows all about the momentum of playing a major tournament at home as a World Cup winner with Les Bleus in 1998.

"(Shevchenko) gave hope to a whole population," Blanc said. "I'm pleased for him, because he's someone I like a lot."

Ukraine will advance to the quarter-finals with a victory, and will win the group with three points Friday if England do not defeat Sweden. France and England are tied for second with one point after they drew 1-1 Monday in Donetsk.

Samir Nasri equalised for France in the first half after they went a goal down, but Blanc's side never found a winner despite dominating the English after the break. Nasri created a stir when he ran away in celebration after his goal and shouted "Shut your mouth."

"These are individual and personal reactions. They are always something we don't always expect," Blanc said. "He was happy to have scored a good goal."

Blanc inserted midfielders Hatem Ben Arfa and Marvin Martin in the second half against England, and the coach has hinted he may make changes.

"We will make changes if we think there are some players who can bring something more to a game like this," he said.

The French were a bit frustrated since Real Madrid star Karim Benzema was forced to drop deep numerous times with the English defending in huge numbers. France finished with a 15-1 edge in shots on goal.

Blokhin, meanwhile, was critical for what he felt was a poor finish for his side in the Sweden match. Such criticism made veteran striker Andriy Voronin smile.

"Blokhin hasn't once been happy, even with our best games," Voronin said. "He always shows us our mistakes so that we don't repeat them."

A neutral atmosphere greeted the French in their first match at the Donbass Arena, but that won't be the case now after Ukraine has lifted the entire nation.

"The people will be behind the team more than ever now," Blanc said. "It's going to be a hard game, there's no doubt about it, but we will prepare ourselves in the same way we have planned."

Updated June 13, 2012

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