England frustrated by technically superior French

Wilting in the heat and technically inferior to the French,

England escaped with a draw from their first European Championship

opener.

And France, with the flair and guile England lacked for most of

the match, will be ruing a missed opportunity.

”The side that played the most football was France,” France

coach Laurent Blanc said.

That was borne out in the statistics.

While the French completed 634 passes, their opponents managed

just 307 while having less than 40 percent of possession in what

was largely a containment exercise by Roy Hodgson’s side.

France defender Patrice Evra compared England’s defensive

tactics with Chelsea’s in the Champions League last season. But

they succeeded for the London club, which dispatched Barcelona and

then overcame Bayern Munich to lift the European Cup last

month.

”We are frustrated,” France defender Patrice Evra said. ”I

think we played much better. In the end it was a draw and we are a

little bit frustrated. At times it was like there were 15 bodies on

the field at times.

”It was really difficult for us to find the space. They played

in the way that Chelsea played against Barcelona. People laugh.

Maybe they want England to play more football but if they win the

tournament like that, they will be happy.”

England was left relying on the brute force of central

midfielders Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to block the French

attacks, with the solidity of the back-four and goalkeeper Joe Hart

providing the shield to neutralize Karim Benzema.

”You can question the team all you want, but you’ll always get

belief, pride and quality,” goalkeeper Joe Hart said. ”People

forget that we’re England and we’re a good side. In that first 25

minutes they weren’t ready for us.”

While French players looked comfortable with the ball, England

players’ first touch was often heavy, taking the ball that crucial

distance away when it should appear glued to the foot of top

players. The inexperienced attack were too easily dispossessed or

saw their passes go astray.

England players celebrated the teamwork.

”It was a really good collective performance,” England

defender Joleon Lescott said. ”It was a really hard game to start

off with. We had to be organized and … our work ethic was

important.”

There was a buzz early in the match, inspired by teenage winger

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on just his second England start, although

his influence became more limited.

”He’s still got a lot of learning to do,” Gerrard said. ”But

playing with experienced players he’ll pick that up.”

England did expose the French defensive frailties on the

half-hour when center back Lescott headed England in front from

Gerrard’s free kick. But nine minutes later, Hart was beaten at his

near post when Samir Nasri completed a flowing French move.

It was just the kind of fluid surge and one-touch football that

England couldn’t reproduce.

But while France is now on a 22-match unbeaten run, Monday’s

draw was only England’s third consecutive unbeaten match – all

under Hodgson in the last month.

But the new coach hopes England has now established itself as a

side hard to beat as he prepares for Sweden and co-host Ukraine in

the rest of the group stage.

”You don’t become a really good team in three matches and 10

training sessions,” the former Inter Milan and Liverpool manager

said. ”The French have gone 22 games unbeaten and they’ve not done

that overnight. It’s been a long process, people playing together

and getting to know each other’s games. The longer we play

together, the better we’ll become too.”

Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris