Two things are undeniable about the 1-1 draw in the EURO 2012 game between England and France. Firstly: a draw is a great result for England. Secondly: if England do not change their tactics for their next game against Sweden on Friday they will risk burn themselves out by the last group outing.
Complaining about the heat England lobbed themselves into the first half hour of the game. Stoically sitting in banks of four they opted for long ball play in the first two thirds and tried a killer pass for a runner in the final third.
The plan worked because in this time they created some moves, almost scored when a wasteful James Milner rounded the goalkeeper and spent a shot into the side netting and then scored an opener from a Joleon Lescott header that came from a free kick from range.
However, toiling in the sun they then reverted into sitting incredibly deep and repelled shots like a bunting veteran baseball star. They were not prepared to push back out and tie passes together, rather opting to tuck in front of Joe Hart’s goal and let Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard block shots.
As brave as this was it was never enough to keep out France’s quality, and although England may have fooled themselves into thinking that this was not the case chances looked likely for their opposition.
In stuffing their own box with white shirts England invited pressure. Right back Mathieu Debuchy looked impressive as he regularly bypassed England’s cover to shower the goalmouth with crosses. Franck Ribery was his usual self and Samir Nasri was rarely in the same hole twice.
When the goal came it was because France were consistently able to waltz up to the 18-yard line. With several midfielders in Hart’s eyeline Nasri clipped off a shot that crept past the England goalkeeper’s near post.
In the second half France’s Karim Benzema and Yohan Cabaye drilled in long-range shot after long-range shot whilst England registered none of their own for the next 45 minutes.
However, as the game turned into an attack versus defense drill England will be happy with their ability to keep their shape and bat away shots, sacrificing enterprise for a sure footing and many well won blocks.
France will be disappointed that they did not make more of their possession, even if it is possible that ten minutes more would have seen them edge closer to a goal as England tired badly. England on the other hand will know that they chased this game well, digging in the heels.
If they can successfully make a transition from blocking and tucking to holding and building England may well get greater return than pre-tournament expectations had dictated. If they do not then it is possible that injuries and weakened legs will see off their dogged stars.
France will still be favorites to top the group after this display.