James Lawton: Hard graft the key if England are to bloom against France in City of Roses

Gerrard is under more pressure than at any point since his erratic World Cup leadership

Donetsk

Though it hangs on to the grit-smeared old title of city of a million roses, a bit like the Rhondda Valley claiming to be Tuscany West, this is a place which like few others on earth has always insisted on the hardest work – whether you were part of a slave labour force or just someone battling to survive in the mines or the steel plant.

Relatively speaking, the plight of Roy Hodgson's recast England may not be quite so severe tonight but there is still the most compelling case for them to look around and absorb the vibe.

Whatever they do they are unlikely to get their hands on too many roses but the main task is, of course, avoiding too many regrets.

They have to fight Laurent Blanc's revived France of much greater creative capacity, and one filled with a sense of renewal rather than the English one that they have found their football equivalent of ground zero, in the knowledge that in their last major tournament they did not merely perform poorly.

They turned the stomach of much of the sporting nation two years ago in the World Cup.

They did it with football that was not only unfit for purpose but riddled with ill-founded ego and appalling lack of focus.

Their manager, Fabio Capello, who many insisted made his own contribution to the disaster, said he didn't recognise his team. It was something any self-respecting football nation might have said.

The French had a scandal of their own, of course, and in some ways it went deeper with the arrival of anarchy in the dressing room and out on the training field. There was, however, a difference. The French reacted. They fired their eccentric, even loathed coach, Raymond Domenech, and installed a national hero who had, as it happened, done some impressive work with Bordeaux.

England, by the lamest comparison, preserved their uneasy relationship with Capello, provoked his resignation shortly before the onset of the tournament he had qualified for with some comfort before Wayne Rooney's brain storm in the last game against Montenegro, then gave Hodgson his poisoned chalice with just slightly more time to spare than it would take to plan a family holiday.

This was from an allegedly front rank football nation which won its one and only major tournament 46 years ago, since which time France have won one World Cup, two European titles and appeared in another World Cup final.

France was exasperated and enraged by the South African denouement. Twenty three players were given a gravely symbolic suspension. Two years on, England still wrestle with the John Terry problem that so bedevilled them in the World Cup.

So yes, England have to fight tonight not for glory but something that might just smack of a bit of redemption, a little regained pride.

Hodgson, no doubt correctly, has already tacitly accepted the accumulated failures of English organisation and vision since that sole and distant triumph in 1966. He has said, in so many words, that England cannot live here with the force and imagination of teams like Spain and Germany, and, who knows, a Netherlands coming back from the dead and a Russia buoyed by their brilliant young prospect Alan Dzagoev and the hope that they can produce something more substantial than their early, beguiling running in Euro 2008.

England, says Hodgson, must live off scraps. They must abandon the idea that they can stand toe to toe with opponents of tonight's quality, which was evident enough in the first days of Blanc's appointment when France scored a psychologically important victory at Wembley.

France outplayed England for most of the game but the French media were not exactly overwhelmed. "It was nice to see France playing together at the same time on the same field, but remember this was England who drew their last game 0-0 at home to Montenegro," sniffed one Paris newspaper.

Hodgson, after his solid but scarcely inspiring wins over Norway and Belgium, must engage that kind of disdain here tonight, though he might have allowed himself a small smile over the fact that among those predicting an easy French victory is the discredited Domenech, who once hinted that a player's star sign might be a valuable aid to his selection.

If Hodgson looks to the stars here it will have to be those twinkling in the Ukrainian sky because the kind that used to glitter – at least in their own minds – in the old days of the "golden generation" celebrity club he has already declared are part of the past.

It is something that plainly had to be said and done and what we have now is a resolve to live in the real world – one in which England cannot expect seriously to compete creatively with a French team that will come at them with an altogether superior attacking force.

Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri make a combination of speed, finishing flair and the ability to play a killing final ball quite beyond England's resources.

There is also the potential of Hatem Ben Arfa to continue his late run into contention and the superior touch of his Newcastle team-mate Yohan Cabaye. These are possibilities to make the blood race while England, necessarily, stir up their sinew.

Also required is the captain's performance of his life from Steven Gerrard. Even at this late hour, he remains the great enigma of the English game – a player of extraordinary power and inspiration, from time to time he can also suffer terrible betrayals of judgement.

The tackle which took a Norwegian player out of the recent friendly was, say what Hodgson might, nothing less than ludicrous. Too often he lunges rather than thinks but then, of course, there are moments when he reaches an extraordinary understanding of his power to influence a match.

Tonight they simply have to come controlled but also thick and fast. He is under more pressure than at any point since his erratic and underwhelming leadership of the team in the World Cup.

Gerrard has to threaten France with his ability to make the big play and this will require him to produce the best of his judgement.

He will certainly not be wise to dwell for more than a nanosecond on the catastrophe that overtook him in the last seconds of England's last appearance against France in this tournament.

It was in England's opening game of 2004 in Lisbon, one in which a goal from Frank Lampard and the brilliance of Rooney – who won a penalty that David Beckham failed to covert – threatened to put down the still luminously gifted reigning champions.

Then Zinedine Zidane scored a superb free-kick and a penalty when Gerrard played a suicide back pass which led to David James fouling Thierry Henry.

Unfortunately there is no Lampard or Rooney tonight. They might have helped the cause of a manager espousing the new reality and a captain who says he's hell-bent on redeeming all the frustrations of a long international career. It means England have to work harder than they've ever done before.

Undoubtedly they have come to the right place at the right time. The City of Roses has never offered much reward to anyone wearing flowers in their hair.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?