England vs France : A Preview
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
For English and French football fans alike, the waiting is over as Euro 2012 Group D action begins tonight. Will it be England or France to raise their hopes of Euro 2012 glory? Today on the blog, our Euro 2012 correspondent Adam Hurrey takes a look at what we might expect this evening.
After an eventful first three days of Euro 2012, the Group D nations complete the set in the opening round of fixtures. First up, in Donetsk, England take on France - 8/5 favourites with Betfair to top the group.
Much has been made of England's supposedly chaotic preparations for the tournament, but there was a distinct air of calm around the squad's pleasant Polish base. The cumulative effect of Wayne Rooney's suspension, injuries to key players and the obligatory selection controversy has provided them with some much-needed perspective. Not since the demolition at the hands of Puskas's Hungary in 1953 has the English game been so aware of its tactical and technical shortfalls, and it is a well-deserved humbling.
But the benefits are already being reaped. The media coverage for this campaign has been rather more muted than the usual tub-thumping. A relaxed England squad have been able to undertake their Krakow charm offensive with the minimum of fuss, with only the lingering issue of Rio (who apparently no longer needs a surname) to give Hodgson reason to feel uncomfortable.
The trust of the newly-reserved England support will be deposited in the two relatively low-risk banks of four that apparently characterises Hodgson's teams. The functional, rather than flamboyant, presence of the obedient Downing and Milner on the wings may not thrill the nation, but more adventurous options are waiting on the bench. Danny Welbeck (7/2 to open the scoring) seems to have ousted Andy Carroll in the auditions to plough that lone furrow up front, albeit supported by the roving Ashley Young. A cautious set-up against Norway and Belgium earned 1-0 wins in both games, and England are 7/1 to repeat that feat.
Freed from the idiosyncratic stewardship of Domenech, the French ship has been steadied by Laurent Blanc. Undefeated in 21 games, Les Bleus have recovered from the mutinous debacle of the World Cup two years ago and have all the weapons with which to hurt a limited England side. The fleet-footed Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri will worry England's defence and, in Karim Benzema, they have a proven, in-form goal threat. The Real Madrid striker is 13/2 to open the scoring this evening.
However, England will hope to ruffle the defensive feathers of Philippe Mexes, who was unsettled by Estonia's pace in the early stages of France's final warm-up game. With Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ready to be unleashed in the second half, England do still have opportunities to change their shape, with the latter rumoured to be a surprise starter Donetsk. Andy Carroll, should he lose out to Welbeck in the starting eleven, remains rather more than a kitchen-sink option, as his introduction in the FA Cup final proved.
A draw - available at just over 2/1 with Betfair - may suit both teams, as much as Blanc may not wish to admit it, with games against Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine to come. A win for England though, and the great expectations of tournaments past may come flooding back.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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