What is common between Andre Villas Boas and Raymond Domenech?
The answer to that question is rather obvious. They both proved to the world that no matter who you are, and what set of players you hold, as a manager you get nowhere if your players don’t respect you.
The difference between the two is that the former’s team was eventually catapulted to glory, twice, in the same year by his subordinate and the latter’s successor is still out to lift a major trophy.
For all the flak that he has faced in recent years, Laurent Blanc seems to have done a commendable job with the disaster that was ‘Les Bleus’ in the World Cup and transformed it into a team capable of challenging the might of Europe once again. Whether or not he lays his hands on the Euro trophy remains to be seen but his team sure sailed through its acid test, and how!
If recent form were to be factored in, the timing of the European championship could not have been better for the French, coming in to the game unbeaten in 21 games, having defeated most powerhouses of world football en route. However, history bears testimony to the fact that form can at times count for zilch when heading into a game. ‘The Invincibles‘ from Arsenal were unbeaten for 49 games when they went to Old Trafford and subsequently, went down 2-0.
Moreover, France needed to prove their point at a large-scale event but this tournament, in particular, has been known to conjure major setbacks as the Dutch found out the hard way only days ago.
It also didn’t help the French cause that they had to deal with an intimidating English Defense and a bold Manager in Roy Hodgson who threw a surprise by deciding to start Alex Ox-lade Chamberlain which, in turn, meant the recently fragile Patrice Evra would need to deal with the pace of Ashley Young and/or Alex Ox on the wings.
Having said that, there was perhaps more for the french to celebrate than fear. The coming of age of a mid field that the English would kill to have and the resurrection of Benzema up front together meant that they had the upper hand heading into the game. Of course it probably did their confidence wonders that England were without Rooney/Lampard/Barry/Cahill and there was alleged racial division in what was left of the team.
France began the game with arguably their second best defensive line up with Bacary Sagna injured and for some unfathomable reason Gael Clichy left on the bench. The exclusion of Koscielny was also a debatable decision, but then one cannot complain when losing out to someone like Mexes.
There were early signs of jitters in the French camp when Debuchy lost out deep into his own half but that was where the indiscipline stopped. They quickly shifted gears and after a string of passes Nasri shot just wide of Joe Hart’s goal at 10 minutes.
England were doing what they do best. Playing with immaculate shape and solid compact defense lines. Hodgson’s ‘organizational‘ football was most evident and it nearly paid off very soon when Parker cleared the ball to find Ashley young who quickly slit a pass through 2 defenders for James Milner. Milner ,however, managed to do a Torres by rounding the keeper and then shooting wide. Wonderful opportunity lost to take early control in the game. In the very next move, Cabaye had Joe Hart making a full stretch save. Unexpectedly the game was turning out to be played at a fairly decent pace.
At 21 minutes, there was yet another injury scare for Hodgson as Danny Welbeck went down holding his ankle after challenging for a common headed ball. Andy Carrol had to return to the bench after a short warm up run though as Welbeck was up and running in no time.
The Stalemate was broken with 30 minutes on the clock when Patrice Evra conceded a free kick at the right flank. Steven Gerrard stepped up and put in a good old curler behind the defense which was headed in , rather easily, by Lescott. Shambolic defending by the French.
As fate would have it, almost the same sequence of events occurred at the other end of the field but Diarra put his header just wide of the post. The signs of a french fight back were ominous.
Soon after, at 37 minutes, after intricate passing between Malouda, Evra and Ribery the ball was laid off for Nasri 44 yards from Goal who finished with aplomb at Hart’s near post to ensure that the score was even at 1-1 at half time.
Both teams started cautiously after the break, sticking to the same plan as the 45 minutes that had passed. The game was starting to live up to its reputation of a being a slow-paced midfield battle until France managed the first decent attempt at goal by Benzema from an awkward angle and distance. It was all one way traffic thereafter.France then controlled the game for the final 20 minutes and launched an onslaught on the English goal but England somehow managed to keep out wave after wave of French attacks to end the game at 1-1.
France will be disappointed for not picking up all 3 points while England should be reasonably content that they’ve started the campaign on a positive note.
What can be taken away from the game is the fact that Roy Hodgson has brought much-needed order into the once disheveled English line up. They’re very well-organized and look solid defensively but need someone to hold the ball for longer in mid field. Perhaps, with Rooney returning soon, they might just score more on their counter attacks. They might not be very pleasing to the eye but one can expect England to do better than most people expect this time around provided they come up with more attacking alternatives in coming games.
France, meanwhile, looked far better than England and are a completely different unit from the one seen in previous tournaments. Unbeaten now in 22 games, they can only get better from hereon! They looked a little tentative in defense but still managed to spin out a 3-and-a-half star performance overall. They might need to plug the gap between their defense and mid field but they look like a force to be reckoned with nevertheless. Make no mistake, we haven’t seen the best from this team who still have flaring talent waiting on the sidelines. Months of work put into the team by Blanc shows, and having watched them play with the intricate network of passes in mid field it can be safely said, “The French have arrived!”
~Written By Guest Author Anhad Gill~