England manager Roy Hodgson declared last night that his side would go from strength to strength, after surviving an exacting test in the Donetsk heat to secure a draw with France which left him deeply satisfied.
"We'll get fitter as well – match fitter. I hope this gives us a good platform," Hodgson said after emerging with no injury concerns beyond Ray Clemence's snapped Achilles tendon in the warm-up, which means the goalkeeping coach must go home.
The manager believes that those players who missed the last few games of the domestic season – Danny Welbeck, Scott Parker and John Terry – will be stronger going into Friday's match with Sweden in Kiev. "The more we train and play, the fitter they'll become," Hodgson said, having given eight players their tournament debuts by the end.
France's manager Laurent Blanc said that "if we look who played the most football, it was France" and his left-back Patrice Evra later seemed to criticise Hodgson's side for a lack of ambition, which he said was reminiscent of Chelsea's display against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
"At times it was like there were 15 bodies on the line at times. It was really difficult for us to find the space," said the Manchester United defender. "They played in the way that Chelsea played against Barcelona. People laugh. Maybe they want England to play more football but if they win the tournament like that, they will be happy."
But Hodgson was already happy. "I hope we've established ourselves [as hard to beat], but I've [only] had three games," he said. "Am I satisfied with those three games, and have the players done what's asked of them? Yes. But we've got Sweden now. Who knows? Let's wait and see. You don't become a really good team in three matches and 10 training sessions.
"The French have gone 22 games unbeaten and they've not done that overnight. It's been people playing together, getting to know each other's games. The longer we play together, the better we'll become too."
Samir Nasri, who left the stadium with an ice pack on his knee, was also unhappy, offering "shushing" gestures to French journalists who have criticised him for leading demands for bigger bonuses. "That's between him and his detractors," Blanc said. "That's something personal. I think Samir was happy to score a goal and play a good game." Nasri said he had changed his body shape to deceive Joe Hart for his equaliser. "Joe Hart knows me from Manchester City and he knows I usually open my feet. This time I closed [my body] and it went in."
Hodgson said Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's selection had paid off with "the ability he has to skip past defenders". The manager added: "He's got the ability to beat people, an important ability to have. But I said to him before the game that this was a big occasion, and there'll be so many more big occasions in the rest of his career. So don't hang yourself or get hung up on this occasion. Play to the best of your ability, and just remember you've got plenty of games for England ahead of you."
Captain Steven Gerrard reflected: "We would've been delighted with a win but you've seen tonight that France have fantastic players. We have to be satisfied with the performance, but we are not going to get carried away. This was always going to be a platform."