DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 11: Manager Roy Hodgson of England looks on during the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between France and England at Donbass Arena on June 11, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
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.
As Roberto Martinez said in the aftermath of England's 1-1 draw against France, 'you need to start somewhere'. England defended deep and took one of their three chances to get a very credible point against Group D's top team, a performance which is currently known as doing a Chelsea. But Roy Hodgson has been doing this since long before Roberto di Matteo decided to turtle his way though the Champions League. This was doing a Fulham, or doing a West Brom*.
*Probably not 'doing a Liverpool', though, which is slightly ironic considering the tiresome twitter jokes that have been floating around over the makeup of this England squad.
Which was, of course, the entire point of hiring Roy Hodgson. Two years ago, England went into the 2010 World Cup with high expectations. They lurched their way through the group stages before getting embarrassed by Germany in the second round, and it became incredibly obvious that the players simply weren't good enough to compete with the world's top teams.
After the World Cup, the Three Lions were suffering from a serious case of wounded pride. Since then, things have only gotten worse. Their most promising young talent has been injured for a year. Their former captain was accused of racially abusing his defensive partner's brother. Manager Fabio Capello left over the FA stripping John Terry of said captaincy. Injuries piled up - Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill were all out. Wayne Rooney was missing. The Rio Ferdinand John Terry fiasco popped up again. Stewart Downing!
And also England are not very good.
Given all of that, Hodgson has one job at this tournament, and that's to not be a national embarrassment. Granted, he's already started slipping given his deeply strange job of handling the Ferdinand situation (there are, presumably, good 'footballing reasons' why Liverpool's backup right back is preferred to the former captain, but I certainly can't find any), but the real tests will come on the pitch, and France are always a formidable test.
It should not be forgotten that this is the same France team that cruised past England at Wembley less than twelve months ago. It's a France team with a front three better than anyone currently available to Hodgson, who was forced to field a makeshift central midfield partnership of Steven Gerrard and a half-fit Scott Parker. France are significantly better than England, and England shut them down.
No, it wasn't pretty football, but they couldn't afford to lose and they didn't. An organised, efficient defence shut down Karim Benzema and company, and England managed to eke out enough chances to score a vital goal. Granted, they were abysmal in possession, but the Three Lions still managed to restrict their opponents to changes from long range and set pieces. They defended well, remained disciplined and got a vital draw.
The first hurdle has been cleared. It wasn't anything approaching watchable for the neutral, but still: Mission accomplished.