A battle between arch-enemies France and England kicks off the action in Group D on Monday night, as both teams look to grab the early advantage. A refreshed and confident French outfit should be too classy for a stubborn England according to Tim Collins.....
Monday, 11 June 2012
Venue - Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Local Kick-off Time: 18:00
France arrive at their first game of the tournament on the back of a 21-game unbeaten run extending back to September 2010. And although their recent form hasn’t been fantastic, Les Blues have still managed to compile four straight wins since February, which included a 2-1 victory over competition heavyweights Germany.
With the painful memories of their early exit in 2008, and the disastrous 2010 World Cup still fresh in their minds, the French will be desperate for a far better showing this time around. And now that the division and deceit in the camp appears to have evaporated, Les Blues are far better placed to make a deep run in this tournament and give the likes of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands a fright given the talent in the squad.
Laurent Blanc’s side will come into this encounter with confidence following their comprehensive 4-0 victory over Estonia on Tuesday, which saw star striker Karim Benzema score twice in 11 minutes before half-time, after live-wire Franck Ribery put them ahead on 24 minutes.
Les Blues will be delighted with their ability to minimise the loss of Yann M’Vila in midfield, who sustained an ankle injury in France’s 2-0 victory over Serbia last week. The star holding midfielder who is critical in the French’s structure was ably replaced by Flourent Molouda. The Chelsea man lined up alongside fellow Premier League star Yohan Cabaye to form a new defensive partnership in midfield.
Expect to see this duo line-up again on Monday night, allowing the likes of Samir Nasri, Ribery and Alou Diarra to go to work as an attacking and free-flowing trio in Laurent Blanc’s 4-2-3-1 system. Malouda and Cabaye will also need to protect the back four, as Mathieu Debuchy, Adil Rami, Phillippe Mexes and Patrice Evra aren’t considered one of the best defences in international football.
England meanwhile come into the tournament in rather interesting fashion. The appointment of Roy Hodgson as manager just over a month ago places a degree of instability in the Three Lions camp, who will have the become accustomed with each other on the fly.
While the English have recorded consecutive victories over Norway and Belgium in Hodgson’s short tenure, they have hardly been impressive. In both matches England were heavily outplayed in general proceedings and conceded significant possession, but managed to win the only stat that counts - the scoreboard. Ashley Young was able to hit the winner late in the second half against Norway, while Danny Welbeck found the net on 36 minutes against Belgium.
Roy Hodgson’s back four will be critical to England’s hopes in this one, as they will have to deal with the free-flowing and attacking game that the French will bring to the table. The new pairing of John Terry and Joleon Lescott in central defence will be flanked by Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole and form the foundation for a possible 4-4-1-1 system.
It’s likely we’ll see England take on a rather defensive approach, with Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker taking up holding midfield roles, while Young and Welbeck will be the focal points in attack, and will be required to play with their back to the goal and hold things up as the midfield springs out from its deep position.
PLAYER TO WATCH: KARIM BENZEMA
Benzema is ready to become a star at the international level following his great run at Real Madrid. After being left out of the World Cup squad in 2010, the deadly striker will be eager to make up for lost time and put forward an impressive performance in France’s opening match of the tournament.
The 24-year old’s confidence will be boosted by his brace in Les Blues last warm-up game, and will cause some serious headaches for Terry and Lescott. If Nasri and Ribery are able to get on top of proceedings in midfield, Benzema could be hard to stop as these two are very adapt at threading the telling pass to strikers in that vital final third.
And while the English back four does look like a solid one on paper, Benzema has the strength and technical ability to overcome both as the focal point of Laurent Blanc’s attack.
PREDICTION: France 2 - 1 England