Goal.com analyses where Roy Hodgson's team must win the tactical battle to triumph against the odds in Donetsk
With expectations among England fans going into a major tournament lower than at any time in living memory, Roy Hodgson will not be castigated by a nation for being conservative or cagey.
Indeed, it is almost expected given England's chaotic build-up to Euro 2012.
Left with the last remnants of the 'Golden Generation' and a collection of mostly unproven youngsters, Hodgson's squad is short on quality, technical excellence and togetherness.
Using his experience and track record of triumphing against the odds with less celebrated groups of players, he must work with the uninspiring tools at his disposal.
Here, Goal.com analyses five ways in which England can defeat France against the odds in their opening match of the tournament.
|USE WELBECK'S PACE TO STRETCH FRANCE
Danny Welbeck’s international pedigree amounts only to a sublime finish in a friendly win over Belgium nine days ago.
But the Manchester United striker has the weapons in his armoury to be a match-winner for England in Roy Hodgson’s first competitive game as manager.
Welbeck is expected to get the nod over Andy Carroll at the tip of England’s offensive blade, where he has the pace, movement and energy to stretch France’s vulnerable centre-back pair Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami.
One avenue that England are likely to explore is tasking Steven Gerrard and Ashley Young with playing fizzing first-time passes behind Mexes and Rami, who play high up the pitch and do not have the recovery pace to make adjustments.
Laurent Blanc has taken only three centre-backs to the tournament – the third is Laurent Koscielny, who has had an impressive season with Arsenal and appears more capable of dealing with Welbeck’s threat than his more senior national team colleagues.
|HOUND YOHAN CABAYE INTO MISTAKES
Many of France’s attacks will go through Yohan Cabaye, who has a similar role for his country to Croatia’s Luka Modric.
Playing in a three-man midfield, the Newcastle United man is expected to keep the team ticking over, maintain possession and pick out the runs of France’s three-man forward line.
He is capable of playing smart, short passes as well as the killer ball and Scott Parker and Gerrard will need to be alert to closing down the space in which he normally thrives.
With James Milner set to line up on the right of a narrow four-man midfield, England’s busy bees will need to swarm around Cabaye and hound him into making mistakes.
|BE INCISIVE ON THE COUNTER-ATTACK
It will be hot in Donetsk at kick-off (7pm local time) and Hodgson’s team will spend much of their time fighting fires against France’s nimble ball players and greater technicians.
The heat will sap the energy of the players, whose minds and bodies will be focused on keeping their opponents away from Joe Hart’s goal.
Given John Terry’s ageing legs, England will need to defend quite deep to ensure they are not exposed to the pace of France’s front three of Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri.
However, England’s players must not get locked into completely defensive mind-sets. When they retrieve possession, there must be thought and patience to their attacks.
Hodgson prefers his teams to attack quickly and directly, but England must not get trapped into simply launching the ball forward to Welbeck with hopeful ‘Hollywood’ passes.
|YOUNG MUST RISE TO THE OCCASION
On paper, England’s expected starting XI against France offers little in the way of fantasy or the capacity for the unexpected. It is functional and somewhat one-dimensional
One of the few exceptions to the rule is Ashley Young, who will play just behind the primary striker in the absence of Wayne Rooney for the opening two group matches.
In England’s two build-up friendlies, Young scored the first goal of Hodgson’s reign in Norway and set up the second with a delicate threaded pass to Welbeck against Belgium.
In form and approaching his peak, he has been even more effective for his country than his club – a rarity for a modern England player. The Manchester United man has the touch, vision and speed of thought to catch out France’s vulnerable defence.
|FIRST BANK OF FOUR MUST SWAMP ATTACKERS
The greatest danger to England comes from France’s unpredictable front three. Ribery can be untouchable when on song, while Benzema has the all-round game to unsettle the new-look centre-back pairing of Terry and Joleon Lescott.
In training, Hodgson’s priority will have been drilling the defence into forming a solid connection, an even greater priority given that the Chelsea contingent joined the England camp late after their Champions League triumph.
Lescott will come in for the injured Gary Cahill, which will push Terry to the right of the two centre-backs, a position he looked so disorientated in alongside Matthew Upson, another left footer, at the 2010 World Cup.
The primary role of Hodgson’s full-backs will be to keep a clean sheet, rather than bomb forward and create scoring opportunities.
To do so, they must remain rigidly organised, concentrate and not get caught out of position. If they can keep it tight, England can nick a goal on the break.