England kicked off their campaign today and performed respectably in a 1-1 draw against a promising French team. Elsewhere, co-hosts Ukraine upset the odds to beat Sweden with two goals from Andriy Shevchenko.
Here are 5 things we learned today.
1. Shevchenko’s class is permanent
Although his overall performance was hardly spectacular, ‘Sheva’ made the difference when it counted. Two pieces of superb centre forward movement in the box allowed him to get on the end of two crosses to win the game for Ukraine. His dart from behind Ibrahimovic for the 2nd goal was almost comical and left the big Swede utterly dumbfounded. Shevchenko has proved his worth as a finisher at the highest level, despite losing a yard of pace. The celebrations sparked in Kiev were brilliant and, as the BBC repeatedly remarked, they may well be erecting a shrine to Shevchenko very soon.
2. England showing signs of promise
We all know what to expect from Hodgson’s England; organisation, rigidity and direct counter attacking football when we get the ball. Possession isn’t our strength and Roy knows that, and he used his (limited) resources well against France. This is probably the weakest England team entering a major championship in many-a-year so expectations are justifiably low, but on this evidence England should be strong enough to comfortably qualify from the group. The margin of victory over Sweden and Ukraine may determine who finishes 1st in Group D and consequently – in all likelihood – avoids Spain in the Quarter Finals.
3. Tactical similarities between England/Italy and Spain/France emerge
The flow of today’s England-France game had echoes of Spain-Italy in Group C. Like the Spanish, the French are technically sound and free flowing in attack. Benzema plays in the trendy ‘false nine’ position as well as anyone in the tournament, and an interchangeable midfield including Nasri, Ribery, Malouda and Cabaye allowed France to dictate the play for most of the game. Like Italy, England were organised and determined, using quick direct passing to counter attack rather than matching their opponent with slow, methodical play. England also used Welbeck and Young in a similar manner to how the Italians used Cassano’s willingness to run off Balotelli. The likely Quarter Final match ups between these teams will be intriguing to watch.
4. Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves his place in the team
A far cry from the dull and predictable play of Stewart “no goals no assists” Downing, Oxlade-Chamberlain offers an attacking naivety not often seen in an England shirt. He is far from the finished article, and his decision making and finishing certainly need work, but his eagerness to take players on is a welcome change from the England we are used to. As long as Hodgson deploys Parker, Gerrard and Milner – who are all capable of covering The Ox’s mistakes and turnovers – the young Arsenal player is well worth his place in the team.
5. But don’t expect too much, England fans…
England played quite well, but let’s face it; France were pretty dominant in possession without creating that many clear cut chances. England did enough to suggest that they will win their remaining group games and advance from the group, but their inability to retain possession long enough to give their defence a prolonged break from ball-chasing means they will suffer in the heat of Eastern Europe against teams like Spain and Germany. The fatigue was evident in the latter stages of the game and this will become more of a factor as the tournament goes on. With the return of Wayne Rooney against Ukraine, England will be able to use Welbeck or Young as an impact substitute which may suit them more, but with a possible Quarter Final against Spain coming up let’s not get too excited just yet.
For what it’s worth, here’s a look at Group D after one game apiece.
Tomorrow we’re back to Group A and I’ll be taking a break from the daily updates, which will return on Wednesday after some make-or-break games in Group B.