Screams enveloped the Donbass Arena in the Ukranian city of Donets’k. The clock hit the half hour mark as an impressive England side took the surprise lead against France. Their celebrations didn’t last long as they only held the lead for nine minutes.
England manager Roy Hodgson’s men showed promise though. Not only was the back four an impenetrable wall but the supposed offensive side of the squad actually made the opposition struggle. The 1-1 draw should be a blessing as it shows how far an inconsistent England team has journeyed. The once-ignorant players have learned from their trivial mistakes and have now been transformed into a neat, organized team; courtesy of Roy the Redeemer (check out the statue, there actually is one!).
A surprise inclusion was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, an 18-year-old who has quickly forced his way into the Arsenal first team. I’m a big admirer of the player. I don’t think I can even detect a single fault when he performs, even at a tender age. The Ox is tactically bright and his vision with the ball is astounding. On a couple of occasions, he outmaneuvered his French counterparts, only for his lacking experience unable to pull off the finishing touch. Yet his debut was encouraging. The left flank was his own, showcasing his surging runs and attack prowess.
All the praise cannot be reflected on James Milner. His mind has been changed on numerous occasions; first he’s a right winger then he’s a central midfielder. I just think there are far more realistic options on the right side of midfield, where he performed dully against France. He didn’t have the pace to outrun his opposition and his passing was always intercepted. Consistency is the key but, on the night, was just not on his side. A more natural winger is Theo Walcott who can do all the things Milner can’t. To my dismay, Hodgson only realized 90 minutes from kickoff to use Walcott. This has to change in the next match. Hint: Walcott on the right wing, instead of Milner means a goal-hungry machine looking to score.
Something I hate to admit is the valiant performance of right back Glen Johnson. I will always stick to my gut and proclaim that Kyle Walker or Micah Richards would’ve been the more effective options. However, the Liverpool man’s attacking and defending aspect of his game improved. He should be allowed another chance, on Friday, to save his England career before Walker or Richards dethrone him.
Another section of the ‘brick wall’ that performed admirably was Joleon Lescott. That solid header from skipper Steven Gerrard’s freekick was momentous but it’s just a shame England couldn’t hang on to the lead. My original thought was partnering Phil Jones with John Terry but the selection of Lescott alongside the latter was more intelligent. Lescott generally performs as a left center back, whereas Terry does the opposite. This aspect compromised each other and the end product looked tidy. More importantly, a strong bond in the entire backline was formed.
I must hand it to Samir Nasri, the goal scorer for France: his 20 yard strike was fine but the finger points to Joe Hart as the conceder. I’m all for praise for Hart. His ‘keeping duties are phenomenal but allowing the ball to creep in-between the small gap of him and the post, I was just speechless. In order to progress, Hart must be at his peak. One word to sum up his performance versus France: average.
I must praise the team of Scott Parker and Gerrard in the center of midfield. They steadied the ship when trouble was brewing and the long-range passing to pressure the opposition certainly worked.
A name that had disappeared off the radar was playmaker Ashley Young. He’s been a dominant force in the past fixtures without Wayne Rooney but was completely shut off by the French defense. Let’s hope it was just an awkward day for the new talisman of the team as he will be the one creating chances in future games. In all fairness, he should be the one assisting lone-forward Danny Welbeck and terrorizing the rivals, something which evidently didn’t happen.
An impressive start for England, considering that a draw is probably more than what the fans bargained for. Only time will tell if Hodgson realizes the acute mistakes and ultimately tops Group D of Euro 2012.