11 Jun 2012

England survive for a draw against France

England make an encouraging start to Euro 2012 as Roy Hodgson’s young team earn a draw against the much-fancied France in their first group game of the tournament.

Joleon Lescott puts England ahead with a header

Joleon Lescott put England ahead with a header from point-blank range after half an hour in Donetsk’s Donbass arena.

But Lescott’s Manchester City teammate, midfielder Samir Nasri levelled before the break, forcing England onto the back foot for most of the second period.

However, France were unable to break their defences a second time, allowing England boss Roy Hodgson’s side to collect what could turn out to be a valuable point.

While the opening game in Group D was not pretty, England’s gritty defensive performance will have given them confidence that they can contain Europe’s best at the finals.

Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck impressed on his first competitive start and Hodgson’s decision to hand 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the biggest match of his young life appeared to be fully justified from his performance.

“He deserved it,” said Hodgson.”The way he’s played since coming into the squad, the performance he gave against Belgium, the ability he has to skip past defenders, which is an important ability to have, is excellent.

“I said to him before the game that this was a big occasion, but there’ll be so many more big occasions in the rest of his career so he shouldn’t hang himself on this occasion.

“I just wanted him to play to the best of his ability, and remember he had plenty of games for England ahead of him.”

Work in progress

If England get at least a point against Sweden in Kiev on Friday, the return of striker Wayne Rooney from a two-match suspension for the final group match against co-hosts Ukraine on 19 June could help them over the line and into the last eight of the European Championships.

Hodgson insisted his side remained a work in progress: “I’ve had three games,” he said.

“I am satisfied with those three games but you don’t become a really good team in three matches and 10 training sessions.

“The French have gone 22 games unbeaten. They’ve not done that overnight.

“It’s been (the result of) people playing together, getting to know each other’s games.

“The longer we play together, the better we’ll become too.”

France had 15 attempts on target to England’s one and 19 in total compared to three. Manager Laurent Blanc, said: “We were good enough to not lose the game but we weren’t good enough to win it.”