England's artisans keep Wayne Rooney in the picture with France draw

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

France 1 England 1: Lescott on target as Hodgson's England make impressive start to Euro 2012 with hard-earned 1-1 draw against France

The Donbass Arena

It was a performance for a time of austerity, devoid of the ambition that will always be hoped for from those of a country whose psyche, where the national football team is concerned, is skewed by the act of having bestowed the sport on the rest of the world. By the end, the English whistles issued around the stadium, urging the referee to blow his own, in a way that acknowledged the truth that this was a game of artists versus artisans. And yet for all that, this is a result to be deeply grateful for.

Click here to see the 'Move of the match: Milner's miss' graphic

The artist in the English ranks was in the dugout, his face hot and his hair flat from the evening's stifling inactivity and the hope for England has always been to keep their chances alive for the moment when Wayne Rooney is back. For that reason, a draw against a French side glittering with all the benefits of its Clairefontaine academy is a very fine one.

In part, there is old-fashioned industry to thank for that. In the second half, Steven Gerrard played a substantial part in shutting off the lustrous football that had made Laurent Blanc's players an irresistible force as the first reached an end. If there was a motif for the game's later stages then it was James Milner, socks around his ankles, chasing up and down his right flank, sticking to that zonal play Roy Hodgson had drilled into him.

England could also be grateful for France's failure to make more of their possession. Blanc reflected later that his players "were good enough not to lose the game, but not good enough to have won it," which seemed slightly harsh but they flattered to deceive and in long periods were average. And there are reasons to feel gratitude to John Terry. After his very poor performance against Germany in Bloemfontein during the World Cup two years ago, playing on his less familiar right side then, as last night, this was a very big test. He and Joleon Lescott were outstanding.

The pre-match choreography featured hod-carrying steelworkers, in the local style, which seemed to foretell what might be about to follow from an England side drilled to put defence first. After a bright 20 minutes for them, the first half played out almost entirely as expected; France finding expression through their wonderfully talented offensive players – of whom Samir Nasri slithered like an eel in between the lines – while England sought to take what they could get on the counter-attack.

The task for Hodgson's side was always to try to force Franck Ribéry deep, if necessary doubling up on him to block his path, and to observe the watchfulness of sentinels when it came to Karim Benzema. The margins for error were pitifully thin, as time would tell.

The result was not entirely a display of the Danish, Portuguese or Chelsea proportions. England were not entirely under siege. When they could cast off Hodgson's grid and break free they created the first clear-cut opportunity when Ashley Young was allowed time to fasten on to Scott Parker's pass, advance into five yards of space and bisect the centre-backs. Milner, racing on to his pass, took a slightly heavy first touch and when he reached it, the angle allowed him only to find the side netting. It was the sort of geometrical impossibility which Rooney, who had watched the warm-up forlornly, glugging on his water, might have fancied.

But the preoccupation for Hodgson if his side are to prosper and win games at this tournament must surely be the failure to offer little attacking threat beyond set-pieces. The old problem of keeping the ball as England work triangles up the field is the same as ever. There was too much one-touch football at times and things broke down. Neither was there any offensive width, despite the encouraging selection of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. "It was frustrating at times without space out wide, but the way they play is to overload the midfield," the Arsenal player reflected later. Fittingly, it was with a hod carrier's set-piece that Gerrard offered to demonstrate in one moment all the failings suspected in the French defence. After Patrice Evra's clumsy foul on Milner, Gerrard raked in a free-kick from the right touchline as if the place were Anfield, and with the French central defenders mesmerised by Danny Welbeck, Lescott leapt in ahead of Alou Diarra to head England into the lead.

That was never going to be that, of course. France were soon back at it, when a Nasri free-kick from the right brought a powerful header from Diarra which Joe Hart parried well. And the lead was erased inside eight minutes when the disciplines that Hodgson has been engraining in his players failed them for once. Gerrard and Parker perhaps followed their instructions a little too intently, sitting deeper than they might, which is why, after Florent Malouda, Evra and Ribéry laced passes together incisively, Nasri could step just inside the left side of the area and fire home. Parker and Gerrard needed to push out and leave the defence to it. Hart was perhaps unsighted by Gerrard as he leapt in belatedly to block, and Parker patrolling behind him. But letting the ball sneak in at his near post did not conform to his own high standards.

The second half did not nearly match the first. As the French pushed on, England formed ranks. "They try to drag your back players out of defensive positions and if you leave those positions too early they skip past you with the ball or pass behind you," Hodgson said. "It was important our midfielders shunted across." Lescott deflected away Yohan Cabaye's half-volley, teed up by Benzema, and the striker's own shot was headed over by Gerrard. Parker leapt into a fearsome block. Blanc was agitated by the end and Hart punched the air. Rooney, waiting for his moment, blew out his cheeks.

Match facts

Scorers. France: Nasri 39. England: Lescott 30.

Substitutes: France Ben Arfa (Cabaye, 84), Martin (Malouda, 85). England Defoe (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 77), Henderson (Parker, 78), Walcott (Welbeck, 90).

Booked: France none. England Oxlade-Chamberlain, Young.

Man of the match Debuchy. Match rating 6/10.

Possession: France 60% England 40%.

Attempts on target: France 7 England 1.

Referee N Rizzoli (Italy). Attendance 42,000.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried