This was a match of great importance, not just because it would be crucial if England were to stand a chance of progressing beyond the group stage, but also because in my office there are both English and French staff so there were various points to prove. Historically England have never won their opener at the European Championships, and France went into the match defending a 21-game unbeaten streak.
The end result was a 1-1 draw meaning that both side continued their records for at least one more match, although out of the two sides I would suggest that England should be happier.
After all the banter about England being the Liverpool FC team in disguise, the only players who started on the pitch were Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson thanks to the inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin on the left and James Milner on the right.
The first half had some moments, but as with any of Roy Hodgson’s teams it was clear that the priority was defence, and so with Gerrard and Parker in effect joining the defence for much of the first half, the attack whilst full of pace was left chasing balls that might have been easier if Carroll had started. Attacking on the counter seemed to work well for England though and 30 minutes in Steven Gerrard set up Joleon Lescott with a fantastic delivery into the box.
Unfortunately this led to England defending even deeper, and less than ten minutes later Samir Nasri equalised with a shot into the bottom corner from outside the penalty area. England’s back four were well within the area, giving France’s midfield free reign of the ball on the edge of the error, therefore allowing Nasri all the time he needed to line up his shot and drill it past Hart.
The second brought more French possession, though the break gave Hodgson the chance to push Gerrard and Parker up the pitch ten yards and allowed England to once again defend with very neat lines of four. Neither side could create the breakthrough, with England’s determined defending preventing the French attack from getting a clear sight of goal and England’s attackers unable to find the singular moment of magic that might have put them ahead again.
In a weak group with Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, both countries may have shown enough to at least give their supporters hope of advancing to the knock out stages. But given that the winner and runners-up from England’s Group D are set to take on Group C in the quarter finals—and with that in all likelihood meaning Spain or Italy—it would be fair to say that on that performance neither country would be considered favourites to move beyond the next stage.