France vs. England  1 - 1

Article

Euro 2012 Group D: France 1 England 1

12 June 2012 11:14

England and France played out a 1-1 draw in Donetsk on Monday to share the spoils in the first match of Group D at Euro 2012.

Manchester City centre-back Joleon Lescott gave England the lead in the 30th minute at the Donbass Arena, when he headed home Steven Gerrard's free kick.

Lescott's club team-mate Samir Nasri hit back for France, beating Joe Hart with a low shot from outside the area to make it 1-1 going into the half-time break.

And another Manchester City man had an important role to play, with England goalkeeper Joe Hart called upon to deny Alou Diarra and Karim Benzema in the first and second half respectively.

Defensive solidity, it was predicted, would be the order of the day for England in what looked to be their most difficult match of the group stage.

But Roy Hodgson sprung a selection surprise by handing 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his competitive international debut ahead of the more experienced Stewart Downing on the left flank.

With Wayne Rooney suspended, his Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck, earning his sixth cap, was preferred to Andy Carroll in attack.

France coach Laurent Blanc, meanwhile, tasked Diarra with filling Yann M'Vila's shoes in the absence of the Stade Rennais midfielder, who is still recovering from an ankle injury.

France looked to generate their first attacks down the left flank, with Franck Ribery finding space behind Glen Johnson early on and Nasri, drifting across the edge of the penalty area, shooting just wide of Hart's right post.

It was England, though, who created the best chance of the opening quarter of an hour.

Ashley Young found enough space after dropping off Philippe Mexes to turn and pick out the slanted run of James Milner, who rounded Hugo Lloris with his first touch but could only hit the side netting with his second.

In the next 15 minutes Hodgson's team were to carve out very little more but just as France seemed to be tightening their grip on proceedings, England jumped into the lead.

Gerrard brought back memories of David Beckham with a sublime dead-ball delivery from the right-hand side which Lescott powered past Lloris from close range.

Diarra was beaten in the air in that instance but the Marseille midfielder very nearly made amends when he forced Hart into an excellent save from a free-kick of France's own, before nodding a second attempt inches wide after Ribery had returned the ball to the danger zone.

Ribery was at the centre of all things positive for France and as Blanc's team cranked up the pressure toward the end of the half, he played a part in their deserved equaliser.

The Bayern Munich star teed the ball up for Nasri, who rattled a 20-yard shot inside Hart's near post.

England had more of a say early in the second half, with both teams trading blows without creating much in the way of clear cut chances.

Gerrard was denied a clear free-kick in a good position on the edge of the France penalty area before the Liverpool captain cut out Evra's threatening cross at the other end.

France began to exploit more space in front of the England defence and Karim Benzema found enough room to unleash a powerful shot which Hart blocked away.

Yohan Cabaye might have hit the back of the net with a neat volley if Welbeck had not stuck out a leg to register an important block, before Gerrard diverted Benzema's curling shot to safety as France continued to search for a decisive goal.

England added Jermain Defoe and Theo Walcott to their attack late on, while France threw on Hatem Ben Arfa and Marvin Martin in search of inspiration.

And although France remained well on top, Hodgson's team defended bravely to secure a valuable point.

Next up for England is a match against Sweden on Friday, while France take on tournament co-hosts Ukraine.

Article

Euro 2012 Group D preview: France v England

11 June 2012 03:40

France coach Laurent Blanc is expecting a fired-up England when the two sides meet in the Group D opener at Euro 2012 on Monday.

England, who replaced manager Fabio Capello with Roy Hodgson in May, enter a major tournament without the weight of expectation that normally surrounds them.

But having made the semi-finals of a major tournament just once since 1968 - when they lost to Germany on penalties in the last four at Euro 1996 - it is easy to see why England are not among the favourites to win the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

On the other hand, an unbeaten run of 21 matches has Blanc's side - littered with top talent like Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema - predicted to be one of the teams who can challenge Spain for the title.

"England will give everything because, when there are French against English, it raises the game above the normal international match," Blanc said.

"We are going to have to be extremely strong physically. That is going to be a difficult match. But we don't fear them more than other teams."

The last time the two sides met at the European Championships, in 2004, France defeated England 2-1 in the group stages thanks to Zinedine Zidane, who scored a superb free-kick and a penalty in injury time.

Of more recent times, France's winning streak has included friendly victories against Brazil, Germany and England.

They beat Monday's opponents 2-1 at Wembley in November 2010, with Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena getting on the scoresheet.

In France's last four matches, they have scored 11 goals and Blanc is pleased with his side's form going forward, but wants them to rediscover their form down back if they are to stand a chance of winning the tournament.

"Fundamentally we always knew that we had a quality attack," he said.

"In the last three games Franck Ribery has rediscovered his club form at this level. With Karim Benzema, who has carried on his excellent form for Real Madrid, that makes two hugely talented players.

"In qualifying we relied on a good defence, I hope that we can rediscover this level of performance in defence."

England head into the tournament on the back of successive 1-0 friendly wins over Norway and Belgium, and Hodgson appears to have made defence his number one priority.

Expect England to play a counter-attacking game and without the suspended Wayne Rooney, Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck will lead the line up front with club team-mate Ashley Young just behind him.

With midfielders Frank Lampard (thigh) and Gareth Barry (stomach) sidelined for the tournament, Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker will play protective roles in front of the back four.

France are likely to be without midfielder Yann M'Vila (ankle) but Alou Diarra (knee) could feature.

As ever, the first match of a major tournament is always vital, no matter who the opponents are.

But with the rivalry between England and France always strong, Monday's match in Donetsk takes on extra significance.