I will admit I got my prediction wrong in thinking that France were going to beat England coming into this evening’s game.
Despite hearing all week long that the French centre back partnership was fragile, England produced just 1 shot on target in 90 minutes. That was Joleon Lescott’s goal from Steven Gerrard’s free kick as the centre back pulled away from his market Alou Diarra. All 15 other nations in this competition have had at least 2 shots on target in their opening game.
In fact, England only had 5 attempts on goal in total, another low amongst nations. This was not helped by the fact that Roy Hodgson’s side had only 35% of the possession (only Italy had less of the ball and they played Spain). But I accept, this is how his sides play (West Brom had 45% possession in the 2011/12 season).
I was impressed with Steven Gerrard this evening, which I haven’t always said regarding his England performances (reminded on numerous occasions today of his assist for France’s winning penalty versus England in this competition 8 years ago). He made several tackles and blocked a couple of long range attempts as captain this evening.
Franck Ribery was widely expected to tear Glen Johnson to shreds in this game. The Liverpool full-back was caught out of possession a couple of times, but overall limited the threat of the highly-rated Bayern Munich forward.
In the centre of attack, Karim Benzema was limited to long range efforts. Two belters were kept out by Joe Hart, including one in stoppage time. Both John Terry and Glen Johnson knicked the ball off the feet of the Real Madrid striker inside the penalty area in either half.
Samir Nasri pulled the strings in the France midfield. England didn’t deal with the Manchester City playmaker too well. Nasri was allowed several touches of the ball inside England’s half, sometimes with little pressure on him. This was no more noticeable than his goal in the first half where Franck Ribery was allowed to lay the ball off to him outside the area with the England defence failing to close him down as Nasri took his time to smash the ball low past Joe Hart into the bottom corner.
Danny Welbeck didn’t have much of an impact as the sole striker for England. Playing behind him, Ashley Young too had a very quiet game. The Manchester United winger had very few touches in this game and showed his frustration with a late lunge that earned him a yellow card.
England play Sweden on Friday. Having watched Erik Hamren’s sides poor performance in defeat to Ukraine after the England, I am very confident for 3 points from this game. The tactics will need to be adjusted for this game though. And changing tactics after 3 games may not be too advisable. But the Sweden defence is very vulnerable, as noticeable this evening.
Yevhen Konoplyanka looked lively down the left wing and had success running at them. The young Ukranian forward had a number of successful dribbles against right back Mikael Lustig. Ashley Young could replicate this down the left, and hopefully Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can too.
It will be too naïve for England to soak at pressure from Sweden and expect to score on the counter attack. Yes, Sweden did look poor in front of goal against the Ukraine, but with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the box there’s always a threat of a goal. They have a number of midfielders who can deliver a good ball into the area too; namely Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson and Rasmus Elm.
England need to attack this Swedish side. England have the superior plays to do this. Sweden failed to deal with two short-yardage runs from Andriy Shevchenko as he helped himself to two goals this evening. The pace from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Young, as well as Stewart Downing and Theo Walcott in reserve can get behind these full-backs. Sweden’s defence didn’t look comfortable when the Ukraine wide men were doing this.