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France's midfield has improved significantly under Laurent Blanc, but it was poor against England. Can Blanc get them back to creating chances for Karim Benzema?
England may have been dull for the neutral on Monday, but its defense was effective and denied France the space to create obvious goal-scoring chances.
James Milner is one of England's few competent central midfielders. Can anyone explain why he's being put on the wing?
England have finally embraced the need to approach matches like underdogs, and the draw against France was the first step on their road to recovery from their recent embarrassments.
England and France played one half of very high-quality and entertaining football, but didn't really feel like duplicating the feat in the second half. With the assistance of referee Nicola Rizzoli, the two teams played a very sloppy second half with a fair bit of fouling and diving, and the match ended 1-1.
Both goals came in the first half, and both were impressive. England netted the opener in the 30th minute on a set piece, with Steven Gerrard providing a beautiful delivery for Joleon Lescott. The Manchester City defender rose up above Alou Diarra and powered the ball into the net, giving the Three Lions a surprise lead against the run of play.
His City teammate Samir Nasri hit the equalizer in the 39th minute. Franck Ribery set him up with a quality touch on the edge of the penalty area, virtually putting the ball on a tee for Nasri to rip into. The ball looked like it had a mind of its own as it found its way through traffic, giving a badly screened Joe Hart no chance to come up with a save.
It's rare in football that the basic box score tells most of the story of a match, but this one is an exception. England had just five attempts on goal and one shot on target, indicating just how little they did going forward. France had 21 shots, but only hit the target seven times, correctly indicating that a lot of their efforts on goal were merely speculative.
One thing that the box score missed was the officiating, however. The match was a very physical one that was loaded with bookable offenses -- both fouls and dives -- but Rizzoli was extremely lenient. No France players were booked and a total of just 16 fouls were called. On the evidence of this match, Rizzoli's probably not a great candidate to officiate knockout stage matches. There's an argument made for letting the boys play, but in this case, his unwillingness to call fouls detracted from the match.
It appears that 1-1 draws are the result de jour in this edition of the European Championships. This is the third match of the tournament to end with that score.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Scott Parker are coming off for Jermain Defoe and Jordan Henderson respectively as England shift to a 4-4-2 in an attempt to earn what would really be a vital two points from a 1-1 draw. Whether that's wise is an open question - they're setting themselves up to be dominated in midfield and there's still fifteen minutes or so left int he tie. Of course, considering how weak Adil Rami and Phillippe Mexes have looked so far today, England have a very good argument for a two-striker formation.
France are still putting on the pressure, though. England's defence has trouble clearing a free kick, and a corner soon follows from which Yohan Cabaye rips a volley towards Joe Hart's right-hand post. The goalkeeper's never going to get there, but the ball is diverted behind thanks to an excellent touch by Danny Welbeck and England are safe. They nearly reply with Ashley Young bursting down the left, but his cross is well cut out by Hugo Lloris. This has been rather fun.
Here's that inevitable spell of France pressure. Steven Gerrard tries to run the ball out of the England half after dispossessing Yohan Cabaye, but his touch is a little heavy and Alou Diarra's available to step forward and relieve the skipper of possession. Cue a dangerous looking France attack which sees Franck Ribery toy with Glen Johnson before cutting back for Florent Malouda to try a long-range shot which looked worrisomely goalbound before a flying Scott Parker intercepts.
France keep the ball, however, and eventually England get tired of running about, so Ashley Young wipes out Karim Benzema and earns himself a booking for his troubles. A few minutes later, a mistake by John Terry allows Benzema though and only a last-ditch intervention from Johnson saves Joe Hart from a minor heart attack.
With the match still at 1-1, It looks like Roy Hodgson is readying himself to make some changes...
France suddenly burst into life as Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema drops back a little bit deeper and combines with goalscorer Samir Nasri. Eventually the pair work some space about 25 yards from goal, although a shot looks almost impossible with Benzema's body shape, but it's not for nothing that he's Jose Mourinho's favourite striker, and he's able to unleash a piledriver which Joe Hart has to get down to save.
At the other end of the pitch, Glen Johnson attempts a long-range goal on his favoured left foot, but his effort blazes high and wide over Hugo Lloris' crossbar. We haven't mentioned Lloris much, because England haven't really done anything to test him since the Joleon Lescott goal. Both teams are, perhaps, missing a cutting edge at the moment. That's more excusable for England than it is for France, looking at their lineups.
Franck Ribery's been working very hard today on both phases of play. For his troubles, he's wiped out by a Steven Gerrard and James Milner sandwich combination following a Karim Benzema mistake which put him under silly pressure. The winger stays down, but England don't much care, going on the offensive and forcing Phillippe Mexes to concede a corner kick.
Said corner nearly results in a goal, with Chelsea centre half rising above the defence but slightly miscuing his header and eventually forcing another corner. This is good stuff from England - they're putting a significantly better side under major pressure by playing football that's muscular, quick and actually fairly intelligent. If they keep this up, they can nick a point, especially if they can keep the France central midfielders as quiet as they have been...
France respond to that spell of England pressure by flashing their teeth. Franck Ribery does very well to pick out an overlapping run from left back Patrice Evra, and his excellent cross is just about cleared behind for a corner by a stretched defensive line. The corner eventually leads to a dangerous cross from goalscorer Samir Nasri which just eludes Alou Diarra.
England are still showing more ability on the ball than you'd expect, however - some clever play from Ashley Young releases Glen Johnson to skip past Phillippe Mexes like he isn't there before the right back is fouled by Ribery. Or not, in fact, since the officials decided that his tackle, which took out the player but didn't come that close to the ball, was completely legitimate. That was slightly odd.
That's a little bit better from England. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is brought down by Samir Nasri as he starts to push into France territory, and a quickly-taken free kick picks out Glen Johnson making a lung-busting run into Hugo Lloris' penalty area. The right back manages to escape the attentions of Phillippe Mexes with a neat flick only to see Patrice Evra clear the ball.
England manage to retain possession, however, and a neat interchange between Steven Gerrard and Danny Welbeck puts Mathieu Debouchy under enough pressure that he's forced to bring down the captain right at the edge of the area. No foul is given however, and Gerrard is forced to limp his way back down the pitch. That was at least a semi-legitimate shout for a dangerous free kick, even though it was never a penalty.
We're back up and running in Donetsk, where England and France have traded first half goals and are locked in a 1-1 draw. France are obviously the better pure footballing side, but England have defended well and taken advantage of some slackness on their opponents' part, so you'd have to imagine that Roy Hodgson is fairly happy with his side. Laurent Blanc? Perhaps less so.
Anyway, France kick us off, and they immediately look to push down the left, where Glen Johnson lumps the ball out of play. Eventually the ball is worked to Franck Ribery, and the Bayern Munich winger gives England midfielder a painful looking swipe to the face. That wasn't very nice of him.
England are having real issues getting out of their half at the moment, with Alou Diarra mopping up most of their attempts to get forward, and their lack of composure is evidence by an awful backpass from James Milner that Joe Hart barely beats Samir Nasri to. That could easily have been a goal - a real letoff for England.
Update: England 1-1 France, Final Score
England have put together a better showing than most expected from them in the first half of their Euro 2012 opener against France, but they'll be disappointed that they conceded a goal shortly before halftime. The Three Lions got off to a strong start and found the opening goal on a set piece, but Samir Nasri pulled one back to lock up the score at 1-1 at halftime.
France had some good early moments in the first half, and they controlled the play from the start of the match. Joe Hart almost gave up a golden chance in the 9th minute when he dropped a corner kick, but England was able to clear. Two minutes later, Nasri hit a good shot just inches wide. That seemed to be a bit of a wake-up call for England, who settled in after that.
James Milner missed an absolutely golden chance to put England ahead in the 15th minute. Scott Parker and Ashley Young did well to quickly get the ball forward from midfield to set up Milner, with Young providing a through ball for Milner to run onto. Milner made a great run past the France defense and rounded Hugo Lloris to give himself an empty net, but he inexplicably missed wide, hitting the side netting at the near post.
That miss could have been a gut-punch to England, but they fought back and find an opening goal in the 30th minute. Steven Gerrard set it up with a great free kick from the right flank, hitting an out-swinger towards the edge of the six-yard area. Joleon Lescott got up above Alou Diarra and powered a header into the back of the net, giving the Three Lions a surprise lead.
France began to show much more of a sense of urgency after that goal went in. They had two great chances in the 35th minute, with Diarra nearly redeeming himself for his part in the England goal. He turned a Nasri free kick on target with a great header, but Hart came up with a big save. Franck Ribery put the rebound back across the box for Diarra to make another attempt, but his second effort went wide.
Just four minutes later, France found their equalizer through Nasri. On a well-worked short set piece routine, the ball ended up on the edge of the penalty area at the feet of Ribery, who teed up Nasri for a shot. He unleashed a low drive at Hart's near post that found its way through a good deal of traffic. Hart spotted the ball late because of the players in front of him and couldn't react in time as it whizzed by him and into the back of the net.
Both teams and sets of fans are likely heading into halftime happy with their performance. France have been the better side and have an opportunity to win the game, but England are holding their own. The Three Lions won't be happy that they conceded, but Roy Hodgson probably would have taken a draw at halftime before the match started.
France are looking much livelier since England opened the scoring, and they're ending the first half with a flourish. Yohan Cabaye tries his luck with a long-range effort which is deflected behind for a corner by Steven Gerrard, and from said corner Karim Benzema is eventually able to skip into the box and cause Joe Hart a real problem, forcing the goalkeeper to save with his feet and concede another corner in the process.
Said corner is cleared only as far as Mathieu Debouchy, and the right back absolutely powers a shot towards goal from a full 40 yards. Fortunately for Hart's hands, the ball is knocked skywards by Danny Welbeck's outstretched foot and he's able to catch in the last meaningful action of the first half. We go into the break all square at 1-1.
And now France do have their goal. Just after spurning by far their best chance of the match, the favourites are level through Samir Nasri. It comes out of basically nothing, with Florent Malouda, Patrice Evra and Franck Ribery messing about with the ball at the edge of Joe Hart's penalty area, but suddenly Ribery lays it off to Nasri and the Manchester City midfielder blasts goalwards, beating Hart at his near post.
Hart might have done better there, but he was at least partially unsighted by Steven Gerrard, who had charged out in a futile attempt to block the shot. It wasn't great defending there - one of the midfield duo really ought to have closed Nasri down, but he was given plenty of time and space to get the shot away. That's England's good work undone then, and we're back to square one at Donetsk. 1-1.
There's the France cutting edge. Mathieu Debouchy breaks down the right - this is becoming a theme - and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brings him down with a very late tackle. The foul earns the 18-year-old a yellow car, and very nearly leads to a France equaliser.
It's a very similar opportunity to the chance that Joleon Lescott converted, too, a wide free kick sprayed into the penalty area. This time Alou Diarra rises above the defence and hammers a header towards the goal, but Joe Hart is up to the challenge and beats the ball away. It doesn't get to safety, though - Franck Ribery does excellently to catch the ball before it goes out of play and sends it back across the face of goal, where Diarra heads just wide. That was very, very close. Good game, this. England still lead 1-0.
England have the lead! James Milner is fouled by Patrice Evra on the right, and Steven Gerrard eventually flings the ball into the box, where Joleon Lescott is free to head home from six yards past an absolutely helpless Hugo Lloris. That's exactly how you'd have envisioned an England goal coming, too. I have no idea what Alou Diarra was doing there, but it wasn't anything approximating 'defending'.
At any rate, it was a great header from the Manchester City man and the Three Lions have the lead. It'll be interesting to see if they can hold it - protecting a lead with a counterattacking strategy will suit them very well indeed, and France might have had a lot of the ball but they certainly haven't looked a real threat to score. Holding out here would be a huge result.
Danny Welbeck is back on the pitch and moving around fairly freely, so he should be alright. That's a relief for England and for fans of not watching Andy Carroll. Meanwhile, France go on the attack again, with Mathieu Debouchy doing very well to burst down the right before sending in a frankly abysmal cross that Joe Hart can claim easily. I'm not entirely sure why France are crossing so much - Karim Benzema's good enough, but against John Terry and Joleon Lescott? That's not likely to be very successful.
Meanwhile, England are taking advantage of France's issue at centre half, with Welbeck looking to take on Phillippe Mexes at basically every opportunity. He briefly gets past the defender before Mexes, to his credit, recovers with an excellent tackle just outside the penalty box. Anyway, we're about half an hour in and it's still 0-0. France have been the better side in possession, but England have had the better chances and they'll be the happier side.
England have mostly been trying to respond to French pressure by defending well and then hitting their opponents on the counterattack, and that's worked fairly well so far. They are, however, perhaps feeling emboldened by the chance James Milner just spurned, and decide to apply some sustained pressure of their own. That went fairly well until Glen Johnson touched the ball, at which point it went flying out of play.
And, ugh, Danny Welbeck's gone down with an injury. Alou Diarra fouled Ashley Young in midfield and the ball was launched forwards, where Welbeck and Adil Rami jumped up to contest possession. Rami's landing saw the Valencia centre back rake Welbeck with his studs before landing on his foot. That looked a painful one, but hopefully the centre forward is ok to continue. Unless you really, really want to see Andy Carroll.
There's a real chance for England! If they're going to do anything from open play in Donetsk it'll be because Ashley Young has opened up a vulnerable-looking France back line. That's exactly what happens here, with Scott Parker feeding the Manchester United player before Young slips in former Aston Villa teammate James Milner with a lovely ball between Adil Rami and Phillippe Mexes.
Suddenly, Milner's free on goal, and he rounds Hugo Lloris before... shooting well wide, albeit from an acute angle. That should almost certainly have been 1-0, which would have made this match very interesting. At the very least, it'll be a confidence booster for England. Except Milner. France respond with a longish-range effort from Yohan Cabaye, which Joe Hart gets down well to save. This match is open and rather fun so far.
Joe Hart gets his first scare of the game after a spell of French pressure results in Ashley Cole bringing down Samir Nasri on the France right. The delivery is partially cleared, by Karim Benzema manages to retrieve possession and drives a cross back into the penalty area. It takes a deflection before a grateful Hart can claim the ball.
He gets his second score a matter of minutes later, but this time it's self inflicted. An intelligent pass by Yohan Cabaye catches Glen Johnson napping and Franck Ribery wins a corner. It should be a fairly easy claim for the Manchester City goalkeeper, but he drops the ball and is fortunate that no blue shirts are around to tuck the loose ball home.
France look the better side at the moment but they haven't really opened up any clear chances. The closest they've come is a scuffed long-range effort from Nasri, but if they can keep exploiting the obvious holes in England's defence the Three Lions could be in serious trouble.
Well that's interesting. Adil Rami holds onto the ball for far too long as he attempts to start a France attack, and he gets pressed to the touchline by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain before eventually being dispossessed. The Arsenal youngster starts a break, advancing on Hugo Lloris' penalty area with Danny Welbeck available in the centre. Unfortunately for England, he's unable to find him and the pass is cut out.
Shortly thereafter, France go on the attack for the first time. Scott Parker tries to break it up with a crunching tackle on Samir Nasri, but Steven Gerrard immediately gives the ball away and suddenly a scooped pass finds Karim Benzema in the box. Only a flailing leg from John Terry can see the ball out to safety, with nothing coming of the corner. So that's dangerous moments for both teams in the first few minutes, but it's still 0-0.
We're off and running in Donetsk, where France and England are battling it out in the sweltering heat. This is probably the most important match of the group stages for both sides - they go in as joint favourites to advance to the quarterfinals, but if either lose they could suddenly see Sweden in pole position to qualify instead. England have never won the opening match of a European Championship finals, just in case you were wondering.
England get us going, and they manage to keep the ball for all of eleven second before a long punt from Joe Hart gets unsurprisingly intercepted in midfield. No matter, thought, they win the ball back and then play two clever balls down the flanks. The first, aimed for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, runs out of play, and Danny Welbeck is flagged offside for the second, but they're good ideas and there'll be some hope that the Three Lions can make the most of their chances down the flanks.
The big news coming out from Donestk is that Roy Hodgson has handed a starting place to 18 year old Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who will play on the left ahead of Stewart Downing. While Oxlade-Chamberlain was exciting in his start last week against Belgium, he did seem to try to do too much at times. In any case, he'll be more of a threat than Stewart Downing. The rest of England's lineup is as expected; James Milner plays on the right to try to counteract the Franck Ribery-Florent Malouda-Patrice Evra threat.
As expected, Yann M'Vila is only fit enough for the bench for France, but Alou Diarra is fit to start meaning that Les Bleus don't need to use their panic plan of Laurent Koscielny in the midfield. Koscielny doesn't get the start ahead of Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami, while Patrice Evra keeps his place despite the superior form of Gael Clichy.
France (4-3-3): Lloris; Evra, Mexes, Rami, Debuchy; Malouda, Diarra, Cabaye; Ribery, Benzema, Nasri
England (4-2-3-1): Hart; Cole, Lescott, Terry, Johnson; Parker, Gerrard; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Young, Milner; Welbeck
We're going to pass on making jokes about England. It's just too easy so let's sum this all up without making fun: England is not very good to start and have a slew of injuries; France is playing as well as they have since the 2006 World Cup; England are still really not good.
Lines: England, pick 'em (+125). France, pick 'em (-145).
Odds: England, +220. France, +130. Draw, +210.
Over/Under: Over 2, +115. Under 2, -135.
Lines often skew far too much in favor of England because they are popular enough that people bet on them regardless of how good they are and push the line that way. The Three LIons are bad enough that they are actually pretty heavy underdogs. To comprehend how rare that is, they weren't this big of underdogs in the World Cup against Germany. You still shouldn't be on them. Like not even a little. Take France on the moneyline.
The only chance England has is to do the Roy Special and play a 1-0 match with everyone behind the ball. That won't win them the match, but it will keep them to losing by only a goal. Still, Karim Benzema against John Terry and Joleon Lescott, who play together like they are complete strangers? Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery with no responsibilities tracking back because, well, it's James Milner and Stewart Downing? There's at least two in this one for France and the odds are lovely.
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