By JOHN BOSCHINI
For England and France, Monday's Group D opener provided an acceptable, if not ideal, start to their European Championship campaign.
A first-half opener from Joleon Lescott was canceled out by a superb strike from Samir Nasri as the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw in Ukraine. France had the majority of possession and shots but were unable to break down an English defense that was content to remain defensive as the game went on.
France were dominant in possession for the opening 15 minutes but the first real chance of the game was wasted by England. James Milner was put clean through on goal with a perfectly weighted pass from Ashley Young in the 15th minute. Milner's first touch took him past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris but his shot from a tight angle was well wide of the open net.
England took full advantage when another opportunity came along. Steven Gerrard's outswinging free kick was expertly nodded home by Lescott on the half-hour mark. England sat back after the goal and were almost punished but Joe Hart denied Alou Diarra's point-blank header and the subsequent rebound was sent wide. The equalizer did come just six minutes from halftime when Franck Ribery's lay off was fired past Hart from 22 yards out. The England goalkeeper saw it late but had a shot at keeping it out.
The excitement of the first half gave way to a tense second period where chances were scarce. Hart was forced into a couple of decent saves thanks to long-range efforts but neither team looked likely to score.
In the other Group D match:
UKRAIN 2, SWEDEN 1
Ukraine's hopes for advancement into the quarterfinals received a massive boost as Andriy Shevchenko scored a second-half double to give the co-hosts a 2-1 victory over Sweden.
The first half saw several quality chances but no goals. That changed quickly as Zlatan Ibrahimovic narrowly beat the offsides trap to turn Markus Rosenberg's low cross into the net from six yards out just seven minutes after the restart.
The Swedish captain's goal was answered three minutes later by the Ukrainian skipper. Shevchenko headed in Andriy Yarmolenko's cross from close range before giving Ukraine the lead with a strong header off a corner kick just after the hour mark.
Sweden's best chance for an equalizer came just at the end of the 90 minutes. Ibrahimovic's deft chip over the Ukranian back line gave Johan Elmander a shot from eight yards out but the substitute put his shot over the bar.
Sweden must now beat both France and England to have a realistic chance at qualifying for the knockout stages. Ukraine, on the other hand, end the first round of games at the top of Group D despite being the lowest ranked team in the group.
Group D Standings
1. Ukraine (3 points, 1-0-0, +1 GD)
T-2. France (1 point, 0-0-1, 0 GD)
T-2. England (1 point, 0-0-1, 0 GD)
4. Sweden (0 points, 0-1-0, -1 GD)
What did you think of today's games? Should England and France be happy with a draw? Can Ukraine pull of a shocker and advance? Is Sweden's tournament already over?
Share your thoughts below.