England started their Euro 2012 campaign in solid if not unspectacular fashion with a 1-1 draw versus France in Donetsk. The fixture has provided numerous memorable moments during past major tournaments, notably including Bryan Robson’s early strike in England’s 3-1 victory over France in World Cup ’82 and more recently Zinedine Zidane’s stoppage time turnaround in the two sides’ Euro 2004 opener. Today’s game will not quite live as long in the memory but with a string of injuries in the build-up to the tournament, along with contentious debate surrounding manager Roy Hodgson’s squad selection, it came as a relief that at last a game of football was the main topic of interest concerning the England team.
Hodgson opted to start the game with the exciting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left hand side with Ashley Young playing off Danny Welbeck up front. In an opening period in which the stifling 30 degree heat was evident, Welbeck, Chamberlain and Young’s slick interchanges provided glimpses of a cohesive offensive unit as the game started in an otherwise languid fashion for both teams.
It took Young’s crisply threaded through-ball to James Milner to spark the game into life. Milner quickly rounded Hugo Lloris in the French goal but then found himself unbalanced before shooting wide in front of an open goal from a tight angle. France’s reaction came from Newcastle United midfield Yohan Cabaye, who exemplified the confidence that a successful club season has possessed him with to force a decent save from Joe Hart following a decent effort from the edge of the England penalty box.
England were looking the better team during the opening half hour and were rewarded with the lead after Steven Gerrard sent an ominous free kick from the right towards the back post. Lloris failed to claim the oncoming cross, leaving Joleon Lescott to power home his first England goal on 30 minutes.England continued to look assured on the ball following the opener and it took an Alou Diarra header from a Samir Nasri free kick to reinvigorate Laurent Blanc’s France, Joe Hart was on hand to parry the danger however.
With half time approaching France started to add more purpose to their possession as England responded by dropping deeper than they should have done. This over-cautious approach cost England their lead as Samir Nasri was allowed the time to curl a rasping effort through a crowd of England players and beyond his Manchester City team-mate Joe Hart to level the scores on 39 minutes.
The 2nd half was equally as cautious as the opening stages of the 1st, with a point becoming an attractive prospect for both sides as fixtures loom versus the unfancied hosts Ukraine and the distinctly average Swedes. England and France certainly possess enough quality in their ranks to dispel the threat of their other Group D opponents and in the searing heat of the Donetsk evening neither side wanted to risk defeat by pressing harder for a winner than necessary.
This mentality contributed to what was an uneventful 2nd period. England dropped deep but France could only pepper the England goal with speculative long range efforts. Notably Cabaye watched a powerful effort drift wide of Hart’s goal whilst Benzema tested the England keeper’s alertness with a powerful drive in stoppage time.
As the final whistle sounded both sides would have been reasonably happy with a point from their opening game as Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson look to build on a solid basis in their next games versus Ukraine and Sweden respectively.