A Joleon Lescott header on the half-hour mark was cancelled out by a Samir Nasri strike, as a dogged England display proved too tough for Le Bleus to breakdown in the Donbass Arena, Donetsk.
The media hype had been somewhat intriguing to observe. The British tabloids have played down England so much that, perhaps inadvertently, they had talked up France, as Le Blues headed into Euro 2012 on the back of a 21 game unbeaten run and firm favourites ahead of the clash.
However an encouraging display from Roy Hodgson’s men, who looked comfortable for the majority of the first-half defensively, frustrated their continental counterparts as France were reduced to taking pot-shots from range at Manchester City’s Joe Hart.
Hart’s club teammate, James Milner, should have given England an early lead after some clever play by England. Scott Parker found Ashley Young, who spotted Milner’s run and slotted a superb ball into the path of the midfielder who touched it beyond Hugo Lloris superbly, only to snatch at the chance and scupper his opportunity with the goal gaping.
But France weren’t going down without a fight, and Hart was called into action from Newcastle United’s midfield, Yohann Cabaye, as the attacking midfielder attempted to find the corner of the net.
However it was Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, the man who has come under fire from the French media for his recent antics, who was the villain as he fouled Milner on the flank. Steven Gerrard’s free-kick was met by Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott, and he thumped home a header to give the Three Lions thee lead.
Just moments later England had Hart to thank for protecting the lead. Debutant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brought down Mathieu Debuchy, and from the resulting free-kick, Samir Nasri picked out Alou Diarra, and the Marseille powerhouse rose between two England players to hammer a header goal bound. Fortunately, Hart was perfectly placed to parry the ball away but Bayern Munich midfielder, Franck Ribery, was first to the loose ball and flicked a cross back into the six-yard box only for Diarra to head his second opportunity wide of Hart’s far post.
It didn’t seem to matter though, five minutes later a lapse in concentration on the edge of England’s 18-yard box meant Manchester City man, Samir Nasri, has a second too long on the ball and the French midfielder was able to bury a shot low into the right of Joe Hart’s net.
England, infamous for a poor second-half showing in tournaments, lived up to their title. After a bold and brace opening half, the second 45 was a blur of France domination with the odd break from the Three Lions.
19 shots from Les Bleus to England’s three (only one on target) summed up the domination as England were happy to sit behind the ball in numbers. It was an interesting tactic to watch. A lot of admiration has been voiced for Barcelona-style football; tiki-taka, high up the pitch pressing and hurrying opponents into decisions. England’s style was much different.
Hodgson seems happy to relinquish possession and frustrate the opponent, and in fairness, it seemed to work. Whilst France dominated possession and peppered Joe Hart’s goal, most of the shots were from outside the box and of little trouble to the Premier League title winner.
France’s Yohann Cabaye can count himself fortunate to escaped referee Nicola Rizzoli’s notebook despite several niggling fouls, whilst England’s Ashley Young joined Oxlade-Chamberlain on a yellow card, after a foul of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema.
It wasn’t anything spectacular by England, but Roy’s men set out to stifle their opponents and that they did. For all their domination, France never really threatened and whilst England were forced to make panic tackles from the likes of Gerrard, Parker and Cole at times, there was little to worry about.
A repeat of a performance of this level for the next couple of games and you would expect England to progress from the group. Beyond that how this tactic might fair, who knows. But tonight, and certainly at least until Friday, Roy has silenced a few critics with his teams passionate display.
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