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Monday, June 11, 2012
FOOTBALL writer Stuart Ballie gives his thoughts on tonight’s England-France match in Euro 2012.
A NATION awaits, but for once the expectations are very low-key as Roy Hodgson’s unfancied England begin their Euro 2012 campaign against France in Donetsk tonight.
In reality, it comes as a relief to see the Three Lions back in the European Championships after they inexplicably failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
Thankfully the days of the ‘wally with the brolly’ are long gone and after an unbeaten qualifying campaign, you would expect England’s hopes of Euro glory to be at an all-time high.
Unfortunately, preparations have been far from straight forward with Roy Hodgson taking the reigns from the departed Fabio Capello, leaving very little time to assemble a squad capable of competing in Poland and Ukraine.
With talismanic striker Wayne Rooney banned for the first two group matches and an ever-growing injury list (Gary Cahill, Jack Wilshere, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard & Darren Bent are all missing), reaching the quarter finals would be seen as a success for the Three Lions.
As far as opening matches go, it couldn’t get much tougher than a clash with a French outfit tipped my many as outsiders to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy.
If England are to cause an upset, which quite frankly it would be, they are likely to adopt a defensive approach, with emphasis on counter-attacking play to provide a threat going forward.
Stewart Downing and James Milner were expected to start in the wide berths but there is a possibility that the lively Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may be handed a start which would add an interesting dimension to England’s attacking threat.
Holding midfielder Scott Parker will arguably play the most crucial role as he looks to protect the England rearguard by breaking up the expressive forward play of French playmakers Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery.
Captain Steven Gerrard will also have to do his fair share of defensive graft to stifle Laurent Blanc’s confident side who are unbeaten in 21 internationals.
In attack, the inexperienced Danny Welbeck will be asked to lead the England line with Ashley Young his likely accomplice.
Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe and Theo Walcott also give Hodgson a number of different options from the bench which could be a vital factor with England legs inevitably tiring in the latter stages of the match.
At the other end of the pitch, Karim Benzema will provide a real goal threat for Les Bleus who will have to be patient as they look to down a solid defensive unit, which boasts two Champions League winners (John Terry & Ashley Cole) and two Premier League winners (Joe Hart & Joleon Lescott).
England have never won an opening group match at the European Championships and with expectations lower than ever, a draw would have to be seen as a great result in the toughest match of the group stages.
Although the French are likely to dominate possession, England will frustrate their more expansive opponents and may just sneak a point to get their Euro 2012 campaign off to a solid start.
Verdict: England 1-1 France
What do you think? Will England win? Let us know by posting a comment below!