France vs. England: What Went Right for Roy Hodgson's Team
After all the doom and gloom from the western side of the English Channel in the run-up to Euro 2012, England's opener against near-neighbours France was not the catastrophe many had feared.
Roy Hodgson's team played their way to a creditable 1-1 draw that will no doubt send expectations soaring once more.
Hodgson has only officially been in charge for a month, but England's performance had his name all over it.
Here are five things that went right for England in their Group D clash in Donetsk.
The Rookies Delivered
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Around half the members of the England squad who have traveled to Poland and Ukraine had never appeared at a major finals before.
The likes of Theo Walcott and Joe Hart have been to a tournament but never played, whilst Scott Parker, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Young are hardly wet behind the ears, even if this is their senior tournament debut.
But Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain—at a combined age of just 39 and with just seven caps between them before kickoff—were thrust into a massive match for their country, and both completely justified their respective inclusions.
The Captain Steadied the Ship
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Steven Gerrard has often been criticised for not replicating his club form with Liverpool at international level, but as England captain he was England’s best player at the last World Cup and again led with distinction in Ukraine.
Gerrard put in a disciplined performance. He made sure he did not neglect his defensive duties alongside Scott Parker. He resisted the urge to try too many Hollywood balls up to the front two. He delivered consistently good set pieces, one of which led to the opening goal.
When the pressure was on at times during the second half as France’s technical superiority began to tell, Gerrard was an assured presence for England.
England Knew Their Limits
Lars Baron/Getty Images
The style that Hodgson has instilled into England’s players with impressive swiftness is neither revolutionary nor exciting.
Under normal circumstances, fans would be calling for a manager’s head for employing such drab tactics, but the acceptance that England are only good at operating in a certain way and should play to their strengths is rapidly growing.
Roy's rigid banks of four were pulled apart at times, but the players stayed committed to the game plan and were rewarded with a result they would have taken before kickoff.
Joleon and John Worked Well
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Were it not for injuries and “footballing reasons,” then perhaps Joleon Lescott would not have been starting alongside John Terry at centre-back for England against France.
Operating in tandem with the Chelsea defender, Lescott showed that he was not made to look good by Vincent Kompany as Manchester City won the Premier League title, while Terry still got to strut around as though he was still captain.
Terry led his defence well as he made tackles, headers and clearances he clearly relished. In return, Lescott made sure the Chelsea skipper did not drop the back line as deep as he would have liked, which would have invited even more pressure from France’s front five.
Luck Was on Their Side
Lars Baron/Getty Images
England were good value for the draw, no doubt, but there were a few elements of luck along the way to securing it.
France’s high pressing up the pitch at times meant that England were often prevented from playing out the back. One such instance led to a near-suicidal backpass from James Milner that goalkeeper Joe Hart got to just before Samir Nasri. A handful of other risky errors of judgement in vulnerable positions almost led to French opportunities.
In the first half the usually reliable Joe Hart let the ball slip through his grasp as he went to take an elementary catch from a cross. Fortunately for the England keeper, Glen Johnson was underneath it to hack it away, rather than Franck Ribery to volley into the net.
England staunchly refused to panic or be flustered in such situations, and as such they made their own luck to a degree.