11 June 2012

England 1-1 France

Lescott 30'
Nasri 39'

Welcome to the Roy Hodgson Era. A defensive set-up, limited ambition, a set play goal, and two solid lines of four retreating deeper and deeper as the match went on. England's full-backs mostly stayed in their own half, England's wide players rarely got ahead of the two out-and-out attackers, and Gerrard charged forward from deep to join the attack maybe twice. England were out-passed, out-shot, out-possessed, and out-thought, but earned a famous draw because the defense bent and broke just once.

To be fair, playing for the draw in the first match, against the toughest opponents in the group, makes sense. Mostly defensive football with the players England have, especially with the numerous injuries and Rooney's suspension, makes sense. And I'm admittedly prejudiced by Hodgson's insipid Liverpool tenure. International football, even more than club football and especially in major tournaments, is defined by the smallest margins. But France weren't especially impressive either, with little to make them look like a team that's now gone 22 matches without a loss.

England probably should have been two goals ahead by the time France clicked into gear. 15 minutes in, Milner was clear on goal, played between a wide-apart Rami and Mexes by Young's throughball, but took the ball too wide after rounding Lloris and shot wildly into the side-netting. 15 minutes later, England were ahead, typically from a free kick – a soft foul on the right flank, perfect out-swinging delivery from Gerrard, and Lescott out-jumping Diarra, guiding his header past a starfish Lloris.

But the goal woke France up. Diarra nearly made amends with his own set play chance, with Hart brilliantly stopping his fierce header, followed up by a second attempt put wide. England's reprieve didn't last long as two full minutes of French possession (aside from one hoofed Milner clearance) ended with Nasri's blistering goal from distance. It was an excellent shot, powerful enough to beat Hart at his near post with little blame for the keeper, but the manner of concession was incredibly demoralizing. Nasri (and Cabaye) had acres of space at the top of the box as both Gerrard and Parker followed Ribery into the penalty area. Neither center-back marked any French player. England had nine players in the penalty box while France had three. Seriously, can anyone explain this picture?

Thankfully, that was the only clear failure, able to be written off as a singular moment of madness. But from there, it was even more typical Hodgson and typical England. A slight improvement after the interval, with increased possession lacking in threat followed by French domination after the hour mark. Only one side looked capable of winning the match, only one side looked bothered to win the match. But other than that moment of total madness in the 39th minute, England defended well, in open play and from set plays, especially Glen Johnson, who's often (wrongly) maligned for supposed defensive deficiencies. England blocked the shots they needed to block, Lescott and Terry won the aerial duels they needed to win, and Hart made the saves he needed to make when called upon. Job done? Well, it depends on your job description.

The statistics make for terrifying reading, and will prove to the French that they should have taken more from this. 65% French possession. 21 shots to England's five. 11 corners to 4. Most frighteningly notable was the discrepancy in passes.

The total number of passes is frightening, as is the respective completion percentages (92% to 83%), but the difference in quantity and quality of attacking third passes sticks out like a sore thumb. Compare how many French attacking third passes started in their own half to those from England. It's not pretty, not as a chalkboard and not as a spectacle. But England never promised or threatened pretty football. In fact, they promised the diametric opposite.

Again, and not to keep banging the same, tired drum, but we shouldn't have expected much more, not in this match and not from this team or manager. England should assuredly attack more and better in its next two matches, against Sweden then co-hosts Ukraine. If they done, then the howls of condemnation will follow. This draw decides little, which seemed partly the goal. The success or failure of this campaign will be determined by how England play in matches where they're the clear favorite.

1 comment :

Damu said...

By Roy's philosophy, "Terrific free kick by Roy Hodgson and poor defending by the English players" :D