England prove they are more than Euro 2012 also-rans as France fall flat

The Three Lions may have been unspectacular but they restricted their well-fancied opponents and took the first step towards progression from Group D
 Wayne Veysey
 England Expert Follow on


It was nervy and not especially pretty. But England’s tournament opener sent a wrecking ball through the theory that they are in Poland and Ukraine merely to make up the numbers.

By sharing the points with perhaps the most fancied team outside of the big three of Spain, Germany and Netherlands, Roy’s Hodgson’s team can reflect with some pride when they return to their Krakow training base.

As Steven Gerrard said afterwards, England have now “built a platform” to qualify from the group stages.

Just don’t expect too many neutrals to buy tickets to jump on the train and watch England in action.

In his first competitive game as national team manager, Hodgson set his team up like so many of his in the past at club and international level.

England sat deep, defended resolutely in numbers and looked a tough nut to crack. On the counter-attack, there were flashes of inspiration and enough threat to suggest this team can conjure goals even when the ball does not stop.

 Robin Bairner
 France Expert
France went to Donetsk sizzling like the hot Ukrainian summer, but they had their fingers burnt in their Euro 2012 opener against England.

The impressive discipline of the Three Lions prevented Laurent Blanc’s side from making significant headway offensively and there will be concern that they were unable to play at a high enough tempo to begin to displace England’s two stoical banks of four.

Karim Benzema’s tendency to drop deep away from a centre forward role means their attack lacks focus, which makes it all the more surprising Olivier Giroud was not considered at any point during Monday’s match.

More will be required if they are to beat Ukraine on Friday, and with that also being an early kick off, France will have to find a way to reconcile their high-tempo football with the high temperatures if they are to step closer to the last eight.

Not, of course, that there was anything wrong with their expertly fashioned free-kick goal. Steven Gerrard’s immaculately whipped-in free-kick got exactly the kind of headed finish it deserved from Joleon Lescott.

Credit should go to Hodgson for drilling the defence so well just six weeks into the job. Restricting a hugely disappointing France side abundant in flair to pot-shots and set-piece opportunities was exactly why he was given the job by the Football Association.

If they wanted cavalier and carefree football, the more unpredictable Harry Redknapp would have got the nod.

Recognising the England team’s limitations, the FA reckoned that no Englishman was better placed to organise a disparate group of players than the well-travelled Hodgson.

Most England fans would have taken a draw beforehand and, by claiming the same points haul from their opening match as Spain, Italy and France, there will be a feeling of satisfaction among supporters whose expectation level was at a record low coming into the tournament.

Even now, few will be expecting an appearance at the final in Kiev in 20 days. On the evidence of the opening set of group matches, there are half a dozen teams with far more realistic prospects of doing so.

England’s first task is to make it beyond the group stage, where they are likely to face one of Spain, Italy or Croatia.

The blueprint is ‘Greece 2004’ rather than 'Spain 2008’. But, with Hodgson, we knew that would always be the way.