5 Key Matchups of England vs. France
One of the most hotly contested matches of the group stages of Euro 2012 comes in England and France.
Traditional rivals, the history between the two teams is colourful and passionate.
In the squads we have clubsmen like Ashley Young and Patrice Evra facing each other, as well as representatives of European Champions Chelsea coming up against second-place Bayern Munich players.
Both countries have been under the pressure in recent years and both carry an underdog tag coming into the tournament.
There will be no love lost on the night and the outcome of this game could affect each team's campaign.
Here are a look at the five key battles of England vs. France.
Philippe Mexes vs. Danny Welbeck
Ian Walton/Getty Images
After his goal against Bulgaria, Danny Welbeck will be looking to start against France ahead of Liverpool forward Andy Carroll.
Welbeck will more than likely be operating as a lone striker being supported by Ashley Young and it is likely that Mexes will be assigned to deal with the young forward.
France will be looking to isolate Welbeck, which has been one of the few ways that he has been contained during the 2012 Premier League season.
Welbeck showed against Bulgaria that allowing him ANY space could result in a trouble, scoring a goal that few English forwards of recent years (bar Wayne Rooney) would have finished so coolly.
England have been scoring few goals and defending in numbers in recent games, so Welbeck will be looking to take any chance that the 30-year-old Mexes gives him.
Should Welbeck hit the back of the net early, France could be in for a nasty shock in the first match of the group.
Franck Ribery vs. Leighton Baines
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
With the news that Ashley Cole could potentially miss the Euro opener, Everton’s Leighton Baines could be in for a baptism of fire against the Bayern Munich powerhouse.
I am personally of the opinion that Baines should be starting ahead of Cole; however, if he fails to keep Ribery at bay, this could be one of his final chances to push ahead of the Chelsea stalwart.
Ribery will be hungry to inflict defeat upon England after having the Champions League snatched away by Chelsea and the winger has been looking ominous in recent games.
Ribery linked up well with Benzema against Estonia, and Baines will aim to cut the supply lines and frustrate the French.
If Ribery gets on top of Baines, England will be in some trouble; however, should he be contained, Baines could pull off the underdog display of the tournament.
Samir Nasri vs. Scott Parker
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Should Nasri play between the midfield and the forwards, it will fall to Scott Parker to control the rampant Manchester City midfielder.
I don’t think anyone would not enjoy seeing Parker’s no-nonsense and dogged defending put against Nasri’s speed and elegance.
Many may compare this match-up to Gareth Barry vs. Ozil in World Cup 2010; however, Parker has shown on numerous occasions this season that he will not allow younger and faster players to stroll past him.
This one could come down to how much the referees allow Parker’s niggling and at times bone-crunching tackles (ask Joe Cole).
Regardless of the outcome, there will be no love lost between Parker or Nasri should they face other in the group opener.
Karim Benzema vs. John Terry
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
The Real Madrid star forward netted either side of the break against Estonia the other day and will be keen to keep England winless against France, which they have been since 1997.
The man out to stop him will be controversial Chelsea captain John Terry.
France has a great attack, but Benzema is the “jewel in the crown,” so to speak, as the majority of the other attacking threats are less out-and-out, e.g. Ribery.
If Terry can contain Benzema, England have a real chance of toppling the French; however, should he fail, France could run rampant.
In the build-up to this game, France have played attacking and free-flowing football, finding the back of the net regularly. England, on the other hand, have played rigid football and focused on getting players behind the ball, scoring few goals.
This leads to an interesting game, and Terry vs. Benzema will be a key in the outcome.
Steven Gerrard vs. Captaincy
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
At 32 years of age, this could be Gerrard’s final chance to replicate his club form in an England shirt.
With 92 caps to his name and being handed captaincy over the controversial John Terry, all the foundations are in place for Gerrard to write himself a Hollywood ending to a turbulent international career.
He is one of the few “Golden Generation” players left, and Jack Wilshire will surely step into his boots in the coming years.
In recent games, Gerrard has looked impressive in a more reserved role and has not lacked any energy or commitment.
The big fear is that Gerrard may go missing and not play the all-action role that we know he can.
Captaincy and media pressure have often led to underperforming England players, and this is a chance for Gerrard to break the hoodoo around English football.
In the 2010 World Cup, Gerrard scored a beautiful goal in the opening few minutes of the tournament; let's hope he carries this hunger all the way through Euro 2012.