England 1-1 France – Hodgson’s Lions pass French exam

It’s vital you don’t lose you first game, so the mantra goes. It’s not true of course, but it helps and England will be pleased to leave the Donbass Arena with a point from what, on paper at least, should be their toughest group game.

This was a hard-earned point against a team that had won its last four games scoring 12 times in the process. However it wasn’t just the result but the manner of the performance that was significant. Roy Hodgson may only have been in the job eight weeks but already this England team has his mark on it. Their tactical discipline was clear to see. They were hard to break down; they stayed solid, stayed on their feet and kept the shape their manager had instilled in them.

They had a low-key first 10 minutes which included a couple of scares as the French settled quicker. The first time England lost their shape – with Glen Johnson way out of position – the French exploited the space and forced a corner. Joe Hart, labelled as England’s rock spilled the ball when he came to collect but Johnson was on hand to clear up.

That said, it was England who carved out the first real effort when Scott Parker found Ashley Young on the left and his incisive pass to Milner just before the quarter hour mark split the French defence wide open. However, having rounded Hugo Lloris, the Manchester City man couldn’t find the target from a tight angle with his weaker left foot. He should have done better.

It was sign of things to come and despite France being the more fluid and creative side, it was England who took the lead. Patrice Evra conceded a free-kick with a clumsy challenge on Milner about 40 yards out on the right. Steven Gerrard swung the ball over but the referee decided it needed to be taken again and the England captain will have been grateful as that first effort helped him to find his range.

He made no mistake with the second, delivering a perfect ball into the box which Joleon Lescott headed firmly into the top left hand corner. He was unmarked, Diarra having lost him in the melee, and some will argue that it was the sort of delivery that Lloris should have collected. No matter, Roy Hodgson’s team were ahead.

Minutes later Diarra nearly made up for his lapse beating Lescott to a free kick curled across the England area but he could only head the ball straight at Hart. The French didn’t have to wait long however. Having fallen straight back into the pattern of dominating possession Frank Ribery, on the edge of the area, teed up Samir Nasri who side-footed powerfully into the net.

Hart was unsighted by Gerrard’s attempt at a block and could not stop the ball sneaking inside the near post. The England keeper will have been disappointed he didn’t get across in time to keep it out but he made up for it with a string of second-half saves from Ribery and Johan Cabaye and Karim Benzema with what was the last kick of the game.

This was a positive start which England will look to build on against Sweden and Ukraine and it seems harsh to pick fault but if there was one it was that it was hard to see how Hodgson’s men will get the goals they will need to kill off the better teams they would face in the latter stages of the tournament. That’s for the future however, for now they can tick off their first objective: Don’t lose your opening game.

England (4-2-3-1): Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Gerrard, Parker (Henderson 77), Milner; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Defoe 77), Young; Welbeck (Walcott 90).

France (4-3-3): Lloris; Debuchy, Rami, Mexes, Evra; Cabaye (Ben Arfa 84), Diarra, Malouda (Martin 84); Nasri, Ribery, Benzema.

Did you know…England have scored first in their opening game of the last eight major tournaments they’ve appeared in.

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