- Associated Press - Friday, June 15, 2012

DONETSK, UKRAINE (AP) - The Ukraine-France game at the European Championship was halted after just five minutes Friday because of a fierce thunderstorm.

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.

Some fans stayed in their seats and even danced in the downpour. The rain eventually began to ease and groundsmen went out to the field, draining the surface with spiked tools.

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin stood in the tunnel, looking concerned and with a towel wrapped around his shoulders.

The match began at 6 p.m. local time and organizers said it would will not resume before 7 p.m., weather permitting. European soccer rules state that if play is postponed for the day, the players must come back to complete the remaining minutes Saturday.

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 that was being held up in the 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.

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