England 1-1 France: 5 Things Learned from Three Lions in the Opening Game Draw
Roy Hodgson’s first competitive game in charge of England earned an acceptable result as the Three Lions drew 1-1 to France to open their Euro 2012 campaign. The defensive-minded approach worked for Hodgson’s side, as they kept the French at bay for the better part of the game.
England opened the scoring against the run of play with a well-placed Steven Gerrard free kick that found the head of Joleon Lescott, who turned it home. But that score would be canceled out less than 10 minutes later, as Samir Nasri’s low, hard shot caught Joe Hart flatfooted.
There were many unenthusiastic lulls throughout the match, with play mostly in the English half and France kicking it in every direction buy toward goal. You could sense the trepidation from both sides, not willing to risk losing on a momentary lapse of judgment.
The steady pace was enough for both sides today, but certainly has to change if either wants to make a run deeper in the tournament.
Here are five things we learned from the match.
Oxlade-Chamberlain Should Not Start Again
I know many English fans are very high on what this kid can do. At 18 years of age, he is an immense talent with a huge amount of upside, but upside matters very little in a month-long tournament.
Today, Ox was the quick-paced and dynamic winger he is with Arsenal. But he was also the teenage boy playing against a bunch of veteran men, well versed in the consequences of such bewildering play.
He will best be remembered in this match for winning a ball in the midfield, making a good run, and then passing too late to an offside Danny Welbeck. He also made another good run down the flank before trying to do too much with the dribble and getting dispossessed. He also had the second-lowest passing percentage and number of total passes.
I equated the play of Ox to an angry little ankle-biting dog: He is going to annoy the crap out of you, but ultimately do very little damage. But when you are tired late in a game, that annoyance can really start to take its toll.
Coming off the bench with that speed can determination will be a lot more effective than the way it was used today.
Joe Hart May Be Feeling Some Nerves
I found the biggest surprise of this game to be the play of Joe Hart. Not necessarily that it was bad, but it just lacked the confidence he usually exudes to a level rarely seen by a player in such a vulnerable position.
His first touch on the ball came off a French corner where it slipped through his hands. He was lucky nothing came of it, but it seemed to put him off his game. He was late on Nasri’s goal, one that a keeper of his level makes look relatively routine. He also struggled on the outside shots of Benzema, giving up harmless rebounds, but not ones he usually does.
It is very easy to chalk it up to early tournament jitters. The best thing a goalie can do is make a good first save. There is little doubt in my mind that the fumble on that first cross shook him, but he has to recover much better than that.
If England is going to play this defensive style, he will see a lot of shots coming from the outside. It is a lot of pressure on him, but how you handle that pressure says what kind of player you are.
Glen Johnson Shut Us All Up
There was no bigger discrepancy to Roy Hodgson’s 23-man roster than the leaving off of Micah Richards. Richards had an excellent season with Manchester City and is arguably the best right-back in the league. Compare that to a relatively basic defender like Glen Johnson, who was on the struggling Liverpool.
But Johnson put his index finger up to his lips today and said “shhhh” every time he made Franck Ribery look like just another winger.
Many fans and pundits (myself included) saw this as the matchup that would determine the outcome and many (myself included) thought Ribery had the upper hand. But Johnson essentially made it a push between the two, as neither was incredibly influential and canceled each other out.
He even helped cover back toward the end, making a gam- saving interception on the opposite side of the defense as Benzema was sent though.
There was no one on the English team who had a more consistent game today. Johnson probably deserves Man of the Match honors for that display.
Wayne Rooney Is Severely Missed
It should come as no surprise that the team’s best attacking player was needed in a game where England only managed one shot on goal and five total. But it has to be said just for confirmation that what Rooney does is really missing.
Welbeck had a fine game—nothing you can really kill him for, as he was asked to play up top all by himself and often without support. He is not a big, strong forward who can hold up the ball while the midfield joins in. But Rooney is to a much higher degree.
I highly doubt that such a defensive game plan will be used against either Sweden or Ukraine, but the added benefit of having a forward who can quite literally change a game on his own whenever he touches the ball cannot be understated.
Roy Hodgson Is Safe…for Now
In what was his first competitive match for England, Hodgson managed to keep the rabid wolves of the English press at bay, or at the very least lower in number. A draw was not the ideal way to open the tournament, but it certainly will keep people indifferent to his results as manager.
France was the more highly rated team going into the game and without Rooney, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, they were climbing an uphill battle before the match even started. Opening with a goal was a great moralizing move and even being scored on by a decent shot cannot be held against Hodgson’s tactics.
The plan was to let them beat you with 25-yard drives, and one did—more due to suspect goalkeeping than anything else.
There will be plenty who criticize the defensive approach, but in the end they will have little in the way of concrete results to suggest it did not work. This draw keeps them favorites to go through and can be ratchet up more with a draw later today between the Ukraine and Sweden.
The mood and temperament of the most malicious fanbase in sports can change in an instant. This kind of display and result put in against Sweden or Ukraine will not be greeted so indifferently and to both will have him sacked before he even boards the plane back home.
But for now, Hodgson can rest easy knowing he got the job done.
What Did You Learn from the Draw?
It was not the most impressive display we have ever seen by an English side, but for this team still trying to find themselves amidst the ever-changing lineup, it is something they can live with. They are still alive in the tournament, and that's all that matters.
So what did you learn from the draw? Was there anything to point out that I missed?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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