KIEV (Reuters) - France brushed aside co-hosts Ukraine 2-0 in a Group D game suspended for 55 minutes by a violent thunderstorm and England fought back to beat Sweden 3-2 after more enthralling action at Euro 2012 on Friday.
Sweden became only the second team after Ireland to be eliminated before the final round of games, a testament to a tournament that is fast becoming a minor classic and has already eclipsed the often dull 2010 World Cup.
France proved far too quick for Ukraine and superb second- half goals from Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye made Laurent Blanc’s side look like real contenders for the title as they lit up the Donbass Arena in Donetsk much like the lightning flashes had done at the start of the match.
England striker Andy Carroll powered home a superb header to give his side a 1-0 halftime lead before two defensive blunders, one an own goal, put Sweden 2-1 up.
Substitute Theo Walcott then took over, firing in a swerving shot from 20 meters before jinking to the goal-line and crossing from the right for Danny Welbeck to score with a clever backheel flick.
The win means England need only a point against Ukraine to qualify for the quarter-finals and France will also be guaranteed a place in the last eight if they draw with Sweden.
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.
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, being co-hosted with 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.
As well as probing the banana story, 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.
Poland expelled two Russians on Friday after they pleaded guilty to fighting and invading the pitch during their country’s Euro 2012 match against Poland in Warsaw which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Tensions from communist times have rumbled beneath the surface and Poland’s public broadcaster apologized on Friday for showing the Soviet flag on one of its newscasts giving the result of the match with Russia.
Writing by Mark Meadows; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Ed Osmond