AP Sports Writer
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) - The Ukraine-France game at the European Championship was halted for nearly an hour Friday because of a fierce thunderstorm.
Just five minutes into the game, Dutch referee Bjoern Kuipers pointed upward and blew his whistle, signaling a rare stoppage for weather. The players sprinted to the tunnel at Donbass Arena as torrential rain poured and lightning flashed in the night sky.
Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin stood in the tunnel and looked concerned, a towel wrapped around his shoulders. Some fans stayed in their seats and even danced in the downpour.
The rain eventually eased and groundskeepers began draining the field with spiked tools. Play resumed after a 56-minute delay.
The match started at 6 p.m. local time and once play stopped organizers said the game would not resume before 7 p.m., weather permitting. European soccer rules state that if play is postponed for the day, the rest of the game must be completed the next day.
Shortly before kickoff, the French national anthem had been interrupted by a clap of thunder. About 49,000 rain-soaked Ukrainians then bellowed their anthem.
The early exchanges in the match were cautious, with both sides losing control of a ball held up in pools of water already beginning to form. Kuipers needed only a few minutes to decide that the players' safety was compromised by the lightning and increasingly unplayable field.
As the teams waited for a decision on the resumption of play, substitutes from the France team, including forward Hatem Ben Arfa and midfielder Yann M'Vila, tested the surface. They dropped the ball to see how it would bounce and hit low passes to see how much the puddles slowed the ball.
The players were greeted with a roar from the fans as they emerged from the tunnel moments after the decision to restart the game.
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