Euro 2012: 5 Things England Have to Do to Beat France
Roy Hodgson has only had two matches in charge as England manager, and that is all the match practice he will get with his team before they face France in their opening group fixture of Euro 2012 on Monday.
The Group D clash is one of the mouth-watering ties of the round, pitching together as it does two neighbours with great history and tradition who have fallen on hard times in recent years.
Whilst Hodgson has only had two matches on the job with which to prepare his players, his opposite number has been working on Les Bleus’ recovery for almost two years.
Here are five things that England must do to prevail in this huge match and set themselves off on the road to the knockout phase.
Stop Karim Benzema
Stopping the opposition’s star striker may be one of the most obvious game plans, but when it comes to Benzema it is imperative England limit his opportunities as much as possible.
The 24-year-old has just finished his best ever season at club level, scoring 21 league goals for Real Madrid as they won La Liga as well as netting seven and setting up another five in the Champions League, making him more productive in Europe than even Cristiano Ronaldo.
The former Lyon striker opened the scoring in a 2-1 friendly win at Wembley the last time France played England, and his brace in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Estonia suggest he will carry that form with him onto the international stage.
Trust in Hodgson’s Methods
A change of manager is almost always a culture shock, unless the team in question is able to usher in a smooth transition with someone else within the set-up taking on the top job a la Barcelona.
England certainly did not make the switch from Fabio Capello to Hodgson in such a fashion, and the players are said to have struggled with the new boss’s rigorous and repetitive training methods.
However, two workmanlike 1-0 wins in warm-up games against Norway and Belgium indicate that his methods are reaping rewards, after a fashion, and the players must trust in their manager to set the team up as he sees most fit.
Give Young Full Creative Control
A major handicap for England in their first European Championship campaign for eight years is the loss of their star striker, Wayne Rooney, who is suspended for the first two matches of the group stage. In his absence there is a glaring deficiency up front, both in terms of goals and creativity.
That is where Rooney’s Manchester United colleague Ashley Young comes in. The 26-year-old’s international career has blossomed during England’s qualification campaign, scoring three goals and setting up another three as England topped their group.
Having played a part in five England goals in their past five games, Young is the ideal—and, in truth, only—candidate to fill the vacancy left by Rooney and support the main striker against France.
Hodgson is not renowned as the most versatile of managers. He values persisting with a well-drilled first 11 and challenging the opposition to try and break them down.
Like many other teams ranked far below them in the world, Belgium were by far the technically superior in their recent visit to Wembley and controlled the possession. England concentrated their efforts on containing their opponents and hitting them on the counter, and they were rewarded with a 1-0 win.
That certainly seems to be England's best bet if they hope to defeat France, too. A midfield base of Scott Parker and James Milner and a quick but hard-working front line of Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young appears to be the best England can do with the tools at their disposal.
The injury to Gary Cahill sustained in that match will necessitate a change in defence, but otherwise England would benefit from staying consistent in their team selection.
Act Like the Match Is 100 Minutes Long, Not 90
The last time these two neighbours met each other in a competitive match was at Euro 2004, when they also faced off in their opening group match.
Frank Lampard’s first-half goal for so long looked like claiming a major win over the reigning European champions, only for Zinedine Zidane to score twice in second-half stoppage time to break English hearts.
England still progressed from their group after beating Croatia and Switzerland, but their punishment for letting that lead against France—and consequently, top spot in the group—slip from their grasp was a quarterfinal against hosts and Group A winners Portugal, which they lost.
Should a similar set of circumstances play out this summer, England would be destined for a meeting with defending champions Spain.