England weren’t as bad as some thought they would be; France weren’t as good as the friendly matches suggested. Joleon Lescott opened the scoring, Samir Nasri quickly equalized on the other side. Aside from the Manchester City players grabbing the goals, it was mostly the heat that took over the opening match in Group D.
Another big name clash that ends in a draw, just like Spain’s and Italy’s 24 hours prior to the sweat-fest in Donetsk. Roy Hodgson played the lineup everyone thought he would – A cautions 4-4-1-1 that mostly relies on the speed of Welbeck, Ashley Young and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain. We didn’t see enough of those three combining and double-passing.
On the other end, France were the more dangerous team. Ribery, Benzema and Samir Nasri caused confusion in the English defense, the defended with guts and bravery rather with their heads and wits, but there was always someone willing to lay down his body in order to stop a shot, or Joe Hart positioned well almost all of the time.
In this kind of formation, with Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker not really attempting to blend in the attacking game, set pieces were nearly the only option for England to score. A very good Steven Gerrard cross from a free kick found the surging Lescott who powerfully headed the ball in. Hugo Lloris, who didn’t get to make one save the entire match, didn’t even touch the ball.
But like England always do when they score first against a team they’re afraid to face, they sent everyone back and conceded. Both the control of the match, and later on a goal. Scott Parker lost his positioning after some nifty French passing, freeing up Samir Nasri for a nice shot from outside the box, that a better positioned Joe Hart might have stopped.
The second half was slower in pace, with the players obviously drenched and exhausted from the surprising heat and humidity in Donetsk. England rarely try to do anything special, with James Milner joining on the right a few times to help his solitary forwards, not getting more than a corner or two. On the other side France did create more, with Karim Benzema getting a few chances to show his shooting ability, but either an English head or Joe Hart were always in the way.
Roy Hodgson would have bought the draw before the match, and despite drawing first blood, he gladly took it after being the inferior side for most of the 90 minutes. Laurent Blanc wasn’t as disappointed as some would expect. His team didn’t play badly, but problems with balance between the flanks and freeing up people in the box did arise. It should be easier against teams who can’t defend that well in the next matches.