ENGLAND shared the spoils in Donetsk this evening after a decent display resulted in a 1-1 draw against France, who are now unbeaten in 22 consecutive games.
Much talk was spoken before the clash about the superior quality of the French and their highly dangerous front-men Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Mark Ribery. There was also word that England didn’t have the ability to get a result against the in-form Les Bleus, but over the 90 minutes it was another organised and resilient performance that we have become accustomed to since Roy Hodgson took over.
Positives can be taken from a match that England first and foremost couldn’t afford to lose. With Ukraine and Sweden in action later tonight, it is set to be one of the tightest groups in the competition and both sides showed a tentative approach at the Donbass Arena. A point is positive for England, but now they must kick on.
Hodgson made the bald decision to start with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ahead of Stewart Downing on the left wing and for the majority it was an attacking tactic and one that gave this England side real balance. The 18-year-old showed in glimpses why he is such a talent but would have preferred a lot more of the ball; something that is in part due to the youngsters inexperience but also because of the managers approach.
The back five of Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Jolean Lescott and Ashley Cole looked solid and performed as well as they have done all season for their respective clubs. One slight problem is the dependence on Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker in the centre of midfield with such a lack of depth in that area. Jordan Henderson was introduced late on, and if either one of the two starters picks up an injury, the issue of losing Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard before the tournament started will become very apparent.
The job isn’t done and England must now focus before targeting three points on Friday against Sweden. Two wins will now be the ultimate target for Hodgson’s men, and after the Swedish clash, Wayne Rooney is eligible to play following his two match ban.
Rooney’s return will be very welcome to a young Three Lions side who despite a good display lacked a real cutting edge. Danny Welbeck – picking up only his sixth international cap – put himself about the pitch well but would prefer to link up with his team-mate Rooney who he is in regular contact with at Old Trafford. His other United mate Ashley Young was occupying that role in behind the striker, and will most likely return to a wing position once Rooney comes back into the side.
Theo Walcott hardly featured against France but it is good to know he is available, along with the physical presence of Andy Carroll if Hodgson wishes to mix up his philosophy a little. But for a solid team who like to counter-attack, Welbeck, Rooney and Defoe look the favourites to start upfront and with such options England have to remain positive after a more than satisfactory start.
By Max Whittle