Monday evening saw the conclusion of the first round of Euro 2012 fixtures, with England and France sharing the spoils in the opener before Andriy Shevchenko wound back the years to give co-hosts Ukraine a winning start over Sweden.
The first round of second games is played today, with Group A set to really take shape by the time that Greece take on Czech Republic and Poland entertain the in-form Russia. Here is the news that has caught Soccerlens’ eye today.
A point apiece for England and France
With all respect to Ukraine and Sweden, England and France are the favourites and frontrunners to qualify from Group D, adding importance to the age-old rivalry when the teams met on Monday evening in Donetsk. Les Bleus entered the game heavily-fancied whilst the Three Lions are under transition, but a 1-1 result seemingly contented both competitors.
Joleon Lescott opened the scoring for Hodgson’s men half-way through the first 45, heading home from a delightful Steven Gerrard free-kick. Laurent Blanc will not be happy when he looks back at Alou Diarra’s marking, and the goal came slightly against the run of play. England’s advantage did not last until the interval however, as Samir Nasri’s low shot from the edge of the area beat Joe Hart and leveled things up.
Both teams had chances to win the match, with James Milner guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance when he rounded French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the first-half. France controlled possession without creating any real glaring opportunities, but Hart did keep his side in the game with some competent stops.
A number of talking points arose from the game, with England’s tactics in particular a case for debate. New man Hodgson opted for a 4-4-1-1, with his side playing relatively deep, inviting pressure and looking to strike with pace on the counter-attack. But were the Three Lions negative or just sensible?
With France on a run of 21 unbeaten matches and seemingly settled under Laurent Blanc, England recognised that they were underdogs for the game, and set themselves out as such. With Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker protecting the back four and James Milner selected on the right instead of Theo Walcott to add combativeness rather than attacking intent, Les Bleus found it difficult to break their opponents down.
Patrice Evra criticised England’s tactics after the game, lamenting Hodgson’s defensive and negative outlook. That said the Three Lions will be happy with their result, as the new head coach has admitted, and the side’s tactics seem suited to achieving a task rather than enthralling fans. In this sense Hodgson got it spot on. Finally, in truth, despite England surrendering the lion’s share of the possession and territory, over the 90 minutes the British side had more clear-cut chances to win the game when striking on the break.
Hodgson’s selection of wildcard Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in his starting XI was a brave one, but one that paid off as the Arsenal youngster looked confident and accomplished beyond his years. On the other flank Milner’s selection made sense as the Manchester City midfielder has more of a defensive perspective than other candidates, but he was guilty of poor positioning at times, with France and in particular Franck Ribery having joy down England’s right. Add to this his missed chance in the first half and a number of questionable decisions at times, and the City man could see himself starting from the bench against Sweden.
All-in-all a draw was a fair result, with both sides still having their qualification chances firmly in their own hands. Hodgson’s tactics may not have created the most attractive brand of football for the neutral, but a point will satisfy the travelling support. France will be content with a point also, but need to add a more clinical touch to their attack to challenge for the tournament.
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Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine came back from a goal down to beat Sweden in the last game of the first round of fixtures, with veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko scoring a brace to cancel out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s opener. With the eastern European side now on three points and on top of the group, England can expect a do-or-die fixture against Oleg Blokhin’s men on the last day of the group stages.
Balotelli’s agent criticises Platini
Uefa president Michel Platini has come under fire from the agent of Italy striker Mario Balotelli, with the supremo’s slack stance on racism questioned. The former France international stated that players who complain of racism or take matters into their own hands may well be booked, which seems unfair to Mino Raiola.
Poland and Russia have notorious past
Co-hosts Poland take on Russia today in what should be the pick of the fixtures from Group A. Although a fierce battle on the pitch is expected, there is still historic grievances between these two eastern European nations that will add spice to a vitally-important game.
Ireland won’t change tactics to face Spain
Giovanni Trapattoni has confirmed that he will not change his tactics when his men take on world champions Spain on Thursday. The Republic of Ireland were thoroughly beaten 3-1 by Croatia in their opening game, and with a wounded La Roja surely looking for their first win of the tournament, the Emerald Isle will face a tough game. Despite this, Italy’s resolute performance against the holders may well give Ireland hope.
Group A will be close to being decided potentially by this time tomorrow, and at that point the footballing world will be looking forward to a titanic clash between Netherlands and Germany as Group B returns. Tune in tomorrow for the latest from Ukraine and Poland.