in the field of human conflict has so little been expected of so few!
That was how this
went into Euro 2012, the European Championships in
With the build up to this major tournament
being difficult, to say the least, Roy Hodgson took his men on a
voyage into the unknown.
Their qualifying group, thought to be one of
the toughest, was going to be a challenge, and first up were the
French, unbeaten in their previous 21 games and one of the favourites
for the competition.
It was to be an interesting start.
Hodgson first surprise was to select the young 18
year old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a starter in the team.
It was a bold move but the Arsenal player did not let anyone
down, and once or twice he showed glimpses of his tremendous
began well, as has been the case lately, and there was a confident air
about their play. The
good organisation was soon in evidence and the team really did look
like a team, something that hasn't always been the case in other
tournaments. They pressed
the French at every opportunity and had the better of the first half
hour. In fact the first
real chance came in the 14th minute, when Ashley Young
spotted the forward run of James Milner and put a glorious pass
through to him. Milner
sidestepped the onrushing Hugo Lloris but just failed to turn his
angled shot into the gaping net.
It was a real let-off for the French, and hugely encouraging
for the many English fans in the stadium.
then took some of the sting out of the
side by playing some possession football.
Back, back, sideways, sideways, back, forward, it was like
watching eleven Ray Wilkins's!
(Older readers will know what I mean).
I always smile when I see possession statistics that say 70%
against 30%, but what is the point if it gets you nowhere and hardly
conjures up a shot? Karim
Benzema's effort being the only worthwhile shot.
There were a few long range efforts that had Joe
Hart scrambling a little, but in the main
were content to defend in numbers and stifle the 'more talented'
French players. On 24
minutes Hart made a fine save from Alou Diarra's header from a corner,
and the same player headed wide when the ball came back to him. A near
miss but in the main it was working well for England and on the 30
minute mark they made France pay for all their 'possession' by doing
the one thing that mucks up possession football, they scored a goal!
A free-kick wide right was taken by skipper
Steven Gerrard, and he curled in a beauty to the far post where Joleon
Lescott came roaring in to power a downward header into the net.
fans at the stadium and at home went mad!
Could the unthinkable happen?
written off too early? At
this point in the match the three lions were standing very proud on
those white shirts.
Franck Ribery was being well policed by Glen
Johnson, and Ashley Cole was his usual immaculate self on the left.
In the middle John Terry and Lescott were solid and, after a
couple of shaky moments Hart was assured in goal.
It was disappointing therefore when
somehow scored an equaliser they barely deserved at the time.
The goal came on 39 minutes, and for the only time in the match
England's players failed to shut
players down. As the ball
was laid back to Sami Nasri, the Manchester
City player had oceans of room to
fire in a 20 yard shot to clubmate Hart's near post.
It was a fine shot through a crowd of players, but was even
more annoying as England
had had earlier opportunities to clear the ball.
It also lifted France, who at the time were struggling for
ideas as to how to breach England's
The second half saw
have the bulk of possession, whilst
were looking to break quickly to try and catch their opponents out.
Danny Welbeck had the unenviable task of holding the ball when
in possession, waiting for support, but he was rarely given a decent
pass, although it must be said that his work-rate was outstanding.
Young faded a little as the half wore on, as did
Oxlade-Chamberlain, and it was no surprise when these two were
The French meanwhile pressed forward
relentlessly, well, sideways, sideways, back, forward actually, and it
was not surprising that they were able to create the odd half-chance
with so much possession.
But there were few clear goal attempts, apart from long-range efforts
that Hart dealt with confidently.
He also spread himself well on a couple of occasions to stop
shots from Benzema and Ribery when
did manage to finally breach the defences.
In fact, one of the nearest chances of a goal came at the other
end when Milner's low cross was cleared by Phillipe Mexes with Welbeck
looking to get a touch.
Sometimes when watching
England, your heart is in your mouth
during a half dominated by the opposition,
but it was not the case here, and it was comfortable for their fans.
One has to ask what might have happened had we had Wayne Rooney
available, as his extra class would have asked a few more questions of
the over-rated French side. Ah
well, he certainly looks as though he is champing at the bit on the
sidelines. Can't wait!
So we now have to face the Swedes and as we all
know they are not our favourite opponents in these tournaments, but as
long as we show the same work ethic and resolve in that game I, for
one, won't complain.
the back four played well, the midfield was solid and did their jobs
and the work-rate all around the team was a tribute to the manager.
Nasri was excellent and the right-back Mathieu Debuchy was
outstanding. And one last
thing, wouldn't it be nice if we had the bulk of the refereeing
decisions in our favour for a change, although that didn't happen here
as the Italian ref gave us very little.
Some of the French challenges, especially from Yohan Cabaye,
that went unpunished beggared belief.
But a good draw for the lads and a platform for later in the