England and France tied 1-1 last night at soccer’s European Championship, while Ukraine’s record scorer Andriy Shevchenko got two goals as the co-host rallied to beat Sweden 2-1.
Joleon Lescott gave England a 30th-minute lead in Donetsk, Ukraine, heading in from a Steven Gerrard free kick. Samir Nasri leveled nine minutes later, hitting a low shot past goalkeeper Joe Hart.
“I think we played well as we played against a tough team,” England manager Roy Hodgson told reporters. “I’m not frustrated at giving away the equalizer as we kept them at bay really. In fact we had our own chances.”
France, which extends its unbeaten run to 22 matches, is aiming for a record-tying third European crown and first since 2000. England has never won the tournament, its only international title coming at the World Cup in 1966.
“We could have lost this game had we not reacted, so that’s a positive,” France coach Laurent Blanc said. “But I think if you look at the game, the side that played the most football was France.”
Ukraine tops Group D after opening with a win in Kiev, the 35-year-old Shevchenko taking his tally of international goals to 48. Zlatan Ibrahimovic got the game’s opening goal, his 32nd for Sweden.
Few Early Chances
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain began the match for England at the Donbass Arena, the 18-year-old becoming his country’s second- youngest player at a European Championship after Wayne Rooney against France eight years ago. Rooney is suspended for England’s opening two matches at this tournament. France’s starting lineup included four players who are at English clubs.
There were few early opportunities on a warm evening in Donetsk, with the first clear effort on goal coming from Nasri on 11 minutes. His shot was wide of the far post.
James Milner should have put England ahead four minutes later after Ashley Young split France’s defense with a pass that set the winger through on goal. Milner went wide as he tried to round goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and shot into the sidenetting.
Yohan Cabaye tested Hart with a low shot seconds later at the other end of the field.
England, looking to win its opening match at a European Championship for a first time, was awarded a free kick after half an hour when Milner was fouled by Patrice Evra. Gerrard fired into the penalty area and Lescott got away from his marker Alou Diarra to head into the net.
Diarra had a header saved five minutes later and, after Franck Ribery collected the loose ball, had another opportunity that he placed wide.
France, which had six shots in target in the first half to only one for England, was level on 39 minutes. Nasri collected the ball just outside the penalty area and placed a low shot into the corner just out of Hart’s reach.
The French continued to create more chances and dominate possession in the second half without causing many problems for Hart. Most of its shots were from long range and several blocked by England defenders.
Karim Benzema did force the goalkeeper into a save after 65 minutes and an on-target effort by Cabaye was deflected wide by Danny Welbeck with 10 minutes remaining.
Lescott’s goal was England’s only on-target effort in the match as it was unable to get any shots directly on goal after halftime. France center-back Philippe Mexes was, though, forced to cut out a cross from Milner late on in a rare attack.
France finished with 15 shots on target and 61 percent of possession.
“I’m pleased the game’s out of the way,” Hodgson said. “I’m pleased the players have shown they can cope well at this level, I’m looking forward to the next game.”
After a first half with few chances, three goals were scored in Kiev in the opening 17 minutes of the second period between Sweden and Ukraine.
Ibrahimovic scored from close range on 52 minutes as Ukraine failed to clear a cross from Seb Larsson, but the lead was short-lived.
Shevchenko, playing his 109th match for Ukraine, headed into the net from an Andriy Yarmolenko cross. He then got another header to secure the win.
Sweden had chances to score again. Ibrahimovic tested goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov with a powerful 20-yard shot, then in the final minute Johan Elmander skewed a shot wide. Olof Mellberg, playing in his fourth European Championship, looped an effort over the bar in injury time.
England next faces Sweden on June 15, with France playing Ukraine the same day.