France Frustrated by England’s Defense in Euro 2012 Opener

England players traded high fives after a 1-1 draw with France in soccer’s European Championship. The French were less satisfied.

Joleon Lescott headed England into a 30th-minute lead before his Manchester City teammate, Samir Nasri, struck back eight minutes later with a shot from outside the box. After that, it was a case of France dominating possession and England retreating to the edge of its penalty area.

“If you’re saying to me now, ‘Would you have taken a point?’ Yeah, we probably would’ve taken a point,” England midfielder Scott Parker said in an interview after the game at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine.

France controlled possession for 60 percent of the game and Lescott’s score was England’s only shot on goal, compared with 15 for two-time champion France.

England entered the game without leading striker Wayne Rooney, who is serving a two-game suspension. Coach Roy Hodgson, who’s been in the job for 40 days, also had several injury withdrawals before the competition. Parker said the result gives the team a platform to build on ahead of its second Group D match against Sweden, which lost 2-1 to co-host Ukraine in its opener yesterday.

France’s next match is against Ukraine in Donetsk on June 15, the same day England plays Sweden in Kiev.

Many on the French team, which is unbeaten in 22 games, felt they could have gotten more out of a match they controlled after a poor start.

The disappointed French players had to be reminded by manager Laurent Blanc to acknowledge a small band of fans who traveled to the eastern Ukraine in support of the squad.

“When we scored, I thought we could win, in fact I thought we were going to win,” France midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa, who played the last 10 minutes of the game, said in an interview.

Slow Goal Kicks

Ben Arfa said he sensed England’s appetite for a tie by the length of time goalkeeper Joe Hart took over his goal kicks.

“A draw was very good for them,” he said. “We would’ve been happy to have won, but it’s still a good point.”

Lescott shook off Alou Diarra and headed a Steven Gerrard free kick past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris for his team’s goal. Five minutes later, Diarra wasted an opportunity from a similar opening, heading a Nasri free kick straight at Hart.

Nasri tied the game six minutes before halftime. He collected Patrice Evra’s pass and hit a low right-foot shot from the edge of the area as the England defense backed away.

“Hart knows me from Manchester City and he knows I usually open my feet,” Nasri said. “This time I closed my body and it went in.”

Blanc has turned France into contenders two years after the team failed to make it out of the group stage of the World Cup, where players refused to train for former coach Raymond Domenech. Hodgson hopes in time he’ll manage the same feat with England.

England’s Needs

“You don’t become a really good team in three matches and 10 training sessions,” the England coach said. “The French have gone 22 games unbeaten and they’ve not done that overnight. It’s been people playing together, getting to know each other’s games. The longer we play together, the better we’ll become, too.”

Parker said England has to learn how to improve offensively and maintain possession.

“I understand you’re not going to win tournaments on the back foot, or dogging it out like we did today, but listen it’s a good start,” he said.

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