Roy Hodgson has only been in charge of England for three games but, on the evidence of yesterday’s 1-1 draw with France, he is already stamping his identity firmly on the team.
England were organised and resolute in defence, they continued to fight until the end of the 90 minutes against a strong French side.
While the opening game in Group D was not pretty, England’s gritty defensive performance will have given them confidence that they can contain Europe’s best at the finals.
Hodgson believes the result will act as a springboard for a successful first round, with England facing Sweden in Kiev on Friday before taking on Ukraine in their last Group D match.
At times the Three Lions showed glimpses of attacking talent, the team were durable but lacking flair, this however was more than expected against a French team that is now 22 matches unbeaten.
Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain particularly impressed, when in possession of the ball he showed great control to skip past 2 or 3 defenders at a time. Danny Welbeck also displayed a promising performance, the 21-year-old had a tough job to do, playing as a lone striker against les Blues experienced defence.
Throughout the match, England passed the ball around in the French half with great confidence; this was particularly pleasing to see. Hodgson is clearly trying to implement a more attractive style of football – a philosophy similar to the likes of Spain and Germany.
As always, Parker and Gerrard worked well together in central midfield, it’s just a shame they haven’t been playing together for longer – the partnership seems to work extremely well both in defence and when moving forward to assist in attack. However both players spent most of the evening scrapping for possession in a combative game dominated by Nasri and co.
The ex-West Brom manager’s strength lies in the way he organises his teams defensively and he employed two lines of four against the more inventive French, deep inside England’s half.
The secret behind this draw for England was clearly in the organisation and quality of the back four.
John Terry and Joleon Lescott were sure-footed in the heart of the defence while Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole, winning his 95th cap, generally thwarted Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri when they came down the wings.
Although France largely dominated the second half, Gerrard and Parker’s bravery in midfield added further protection to the English defensive lines.
Lescott’s added bonus was his first goal for England, a powerful header from a Gerrard free kick after 30 minutes, while the only time France pierced the English defensive shield was when Nasri struck from outside the box nine minutes later.
Hart also had a fine game, producing some great saves to foil Benzema on several occasions.
France had 15 attempts on target to England’s one and 19 in all compared to three. These statistics suggest the Three Lions did just about enough, however I feel our attacking threat will have to improve if Hodgson wishes to progress to the quarter finals. Sweden and Ukraine will be no push-overs; the squad will need to be able to score goals to take 3 points off both sides.
For years England have underperformed in major tournaments after over-hyped media build-ups but they have come into this one with little expectation of doing well at all.
However, they showed against France that while not a great team, they might become a hard one to beat. There were glimpses of their promise in 1-0 friendly wins over Norway and Belgium and they sustained that form in their first real test.
If they get at least a point against Sweden in Kiev on Friday, the return of striker Wayne Rooney from a two-match suspension for the final group match against Ukraine on June 19 could help them over the line and into the last eight.
England Player Ratings:
Began by flapping at a cross but then made a good save from Cabaye and an outstanding reflex stop to deny Diarra. Was beaten at his near-post for Nasri’s equaliser but could claim, with some justification, to being unsighted. 6/10
Made a strong early challenge on Ribery and mostly dealt well with the France winger’s movement. Could take part of the blame, though, for France’s first goal afte failing to disrupt or read the slick interchange between Malouda and Ribery. 6
Started the match with a decisive interception and was generally commanding in the centre of England’s defence but was partially culpable for the collective failure to close Nasri for France’s goal. 7
Looked nervous initially and was guilty of conceding possession too easily with some poorly aimed clearances. A real threat, though, from set pieces and peeled off superbly at the back post to head England into the lead. 7
Made a rash early challenge on Nasri and struggled at times to cover the movement of the Manchester City midfielder. Also offered less penetration than usual in attack as England defended increasingly deeply. 6
Offered little width on the right but was effective in regularly drifting into a central position. Should also have scored after taking the ball around Lloris and shooting into the side-netting. Also won the free-kick for England’ s goal. 6
Produced outstanding dead-ball delivery to provide the assist for Lescott’ s goal and, while he at least read the danger, was unable to get out quickly enough to block Nasri’s shot. Also wayward with some of his passing. 6
Was occasionally made to look ponderous by some of the quick-footed French midfielders but did an admirable job shielding the England defence while also making an incisive pass to help Young create excellent first-half chance. 7
Quickly pounced on mistake by Rami to drive into France’s defence and also produced a wonderfully skilled run past Diarra. Showed inexperience, though, when he jumped into challenge on Debuchy to concede dangerous free-kick and collect booking. 6
Given licence to roam as the second central striker behind Welbeck and produced a defence splitting pass for Milner which could easily have resulted in an England goal. Booked for a dangerous second-half challenge on Benzema. 7
Looked in serious pain after taking a kick to the ankle early in the match but recovered to give the French back four significant problems with his link-up play and movement, despite not actually threatening to score himself. 7
Substitutes: Jermain Defoe was introduced for Oxlade-Chamberlain as Hodgson waited until the 77th minute before making his first substitutions. Jordan Henderson was also brought on for Parker, who looked short of match fitness, while Theo Walcott provided an added injection of pace when he replaced Welbeck in the closing minutes.