Euro 2012: Five things we learned from France v England

by Neil Sherwin

Neil Sherwin casts an eye over the opening game of Group D where France and England played out a 1-1 draw in Donetsk.

Two banks of four did the trick

We all knew what was coming with Roy Hodgson and his much debated ‘two banks of four’ philosophy but with only a short time to prepare for the first game since taking over, it was interesting to see how discplined most of the team were.

I say ‘most’ because Glen Johnson continued to wander forward and neglect his defensive duties, most notably early on. However for the majority of the game England defended soundly with Karim Benzema well marshalled and only really given a sight of goal from distance.

The one time England did lose their shape, France pounced and notched their equaliser through Samir Nasri. The Manchester City midfielder wasn’t closed down quickly enough 25 yards from goal and by the time Steven Gerrard reacted it was too late as a low drive found the net past the unsighted Joe Hart.

Still, it was encouraging from an England perspective to see a team functioning as a unit against such good opposition.

Welbeck can shine in lone striker role

Danny Welbeck was superb leading the line for England. Displaying an excellent ability to hold up the ball and fend off defenders, the young Manchester United forward caused problems for the rugged centre half pairing of Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami. The absence of Wayne Rooney was always going to be a difficult obstacle to overcome but a solid result in the next game against Sweden would set things up nicely for a link up between two players who did very well together at club level last season.

Another positive from Welbeck’s performance is that it means Andy Carroll is unlikely to be called upon unless England need to resort to desparate measures in either of the remaining games.

England lack a game changer

While France were able to turn to Hatem Ben Arfa for inspiration from the substitutes bench with the game deadlocked at 1-1, England were not so blessed. In Jermaine Defoe, England has a reliable yet uninspiring striker who throughout his career has never cemented a starting spot at international level. Hodgson obviously didn’t fancy Theo Walcott’s chances of making an impact given his brief cameo, while Jordan Henderson was the choice to replace Scott Parker despite not even making the initial squad for the tournament.

France, meanwhile, left the exciting Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena amongst others in reserve and possess players who can unlock a defence if required. This could prove crucial, particularly in the knockout stages.

On the evidence of last ngiht’s introductions, should England trail in any of their games heading into the last 20 minutes they should be worried. Very worried.

Debuchy dazzles from full back

That lad at right back for France wasn’t bad was he? Those who fail to look outside the Sky Sports bubble for their regular fix of football might have missed Mathieu Debuchy at Lille over the past few years. The 26 year old was superb last night, defending and attacking in equal measure, a balance still not mastered by his opposite number Glen Johnson.

Debuchy gave Ashley Cole a very difficult time and supported Franck Ribery whenever possible while also nulifying the threat of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who was eventually substituted having offered little more than one quick dart through the middle in the first half. People were worried when Bacary Sagna was ruled out of the tournament with a broken leg but they need not fret, Debuchy is a more than adequate replacement.

No Rio, no problems?

Joleon Lescott’s move from Everton to Manchester City for a rather sizeable sum a few years back raised plenty eyebrows but the defender has enjoyed a solid couple of seasons domestically, culminating in a Premier League winners’ medal. The debate over Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion from the squad is sure to rage on but would he have been a certainty to start given Lescott’s form with John Terry still the number one option? We may never know but Lescott did his reputation no harm by nodding home the opener from Steven Gerrard’s cross and was part of a tight defence that gave up few clearcut chances.

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