England start with draw
Monday, 11 June, 2012
Joleon Lescott scores as the Three Lions earn opening point against France
by Jamie Bradbury
England got their Euro 2012 campaign off to a solid start in Donetsk as they drew 1-1 with France.
It was also a good night for Manchester City players Joleon Lescott and Samir Nasri, who both scored first half goals, the 39th-minute strike from the Frenchman cancelling out the Englishman’s header nine minutes earlier to get Group D under way.
The only blot on the Three Lions copybook was the first goal conceded in the Roy Hodgson era, but after a game that was edged by the French, England will head home to their base camp in confident mood.
France had arrived on the back of an impressive 21-match unbeaten run, stretching back to a Euro 2012 Qualifier against Belarus in September 2010. That run also included a victory against the Three Lions at Wembley, so England started as outsiders.
And Laurent Blanc's side stated their intention of extending that record early on by dominating the possession. Cabaye, Nasri and Ribery were providing the impetus as the French kept the ball away from their rivals.
It was Nasri who had the first serious sight on goal eleven minutes in, shooting from 25 yards but his City team mate Joe Hart had it covered as the ball hit the side-netting.
Moments later, and against the run of play, another of the four Premier League champions on display had a glorious chance to open the scoring as England cut through the French defence. Ashley Young slipped in James Milner running in behind the back four,and he ghosted past Hugo Lloris inside the box. Unfortunately, though, he was unable to convert from the angle with his left foot and, like Nasri, found the side of the goal.
Not wanting to be left out as his City colleagues had goalscoring chances, Lescott showed them where the back of the net was on the half-hour mark. Gerrard's re-taken free-kick from the right, was met superbly by the defender, who out-jumped Alou Diarra six yards out, and Lloris had no chance at keeping out the header. The 29-year-old couldn't hide his delight at scoring his first international goal.
It gave England more confidence and they were soon enjoying their share of the football. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in his first competitive start, was showing no fear when he had the chance to surge forward, while Danny Welbeck was working hard to provide an attacking option, with Ashley Young running from deep.
Diarra almost made up for it inside five minutes, with an almost identical chance at the other end. His powerful head was a good height for Hart, and he was able to beat away.
France were level shortly after, though, as they popped the ball around outside the England box. Ribery laid off to Nasri 25 yards from goal and he steadied himself before drilling through the crowd as Gerrard tried to close him down. The ball squeezed inside the post out of Hart's reach and sent the teams in level at half-time.
Nasri combined with Benzema for the first opportunity after the break, with the second period 20 minutes old. A quick one-two between them 25 yards from goal opened up the space for the Madrid man to drive at goal. The power was there, but it was straight at Hart.
Glen Johnson had a sight on goal moments later, cutting in from the right as he so often does for Liverpool, but his left foot shot was always rising over the bar. When he was called into action in his own box with 15 minutes left, Johnson mopped up a promising French attack, coming around to cover and cut off Benzema and his pass forward set Welbeck away as England countered.
The Manchester United forward squared for Chamberlain arriving 25 yards out, but he looked for the chance to shoot, which didn't arrive. It was the Arsenal winger's last involvement as he made way for Jermain Defoe, while Scott Parker was also replaced by Jordan Henderson.
With both teams tentatively looking for a winner, knowing that a draw would still represent a good opening result, Newcastle United midfielder Yohan Cabaye came close to giving the French the advantage with ten minutes remaining. A ball into the box was flicked out by Ribery towards Cabaye who shaped, volleyed goalwards but could only watch as Welbeck's dangling foot directed wide of the post.
Johnson was again involved at the start of another England move with a minute remaining. He played cross-field to Ashley Cole in space on the left who carried forward and laid into the feet of Defoe. The Spurs striker turned, slipped in Milner on the right and he crossed low to where Welbeck was arriving. A last-ditch slide from Philippe Mexes was enough to deny him a chance to pounce.
The last chance of the game was from Benzema, as France found continual difficulty in getting behind England’s defence, he shot from distance and Hart scooped up at the second attempt.
A difficult test out of the way for England and they are off the mark at Euro 2012. Next up, Sweden on Friday.