SPORTS

Euro 2012: After stifling France with defensive display, weary England must recover quickly

06/12/2012 07:56 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT
DONETSK, Ukraine - England's opening draw against France has showed just how hard it'll be to break them down at the European Championship, but their exhausting, defensive tactics rely on veteran players and have won few admirers.

Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard, charged with taking the sting out of the French attacks, are both in their 30s and endured grueling club campaigns.

Gerrard has had niggling injuries in recent years, while Parker has required a painkilling injection to keep him going.

Just how obstinate England was on Monday was underscored by the fact that no goalkeeper in the tournament is yet to make more saves than Joe Hart, while Gerrard, Parker and Joleon Lescott have made the most blocks in the opening eight games.

And after the initiative England had for the first 20 minutes was lost, a French onslaught curtailed any plans to make marauding runs through the centre to feed the forwards.

That meant a quiet, often frustrating night for Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young as they made their first tournament appearances.

With Wayne Rooney suspended for the second game against Sweden on Friday, Hodgson could switch the stylish Welbeck for the battering-ram forward Andy Carroll, who can bully defenders.

"He's a different type of player to the others in the squad," England coach Roy Hodgson said. "He has that aerial ability that is very useful, but also the ability to make the runs behind defenders and use the strength and power ... (to) turn defences around, and can do damage on crosses."

The surprise selection of Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain on the left of midfield against France showed that Hodgson is prepared to take risks rather than sticking with tried and tested formulas, although the teenager's opportunities to burst down the flanks were limited.

The challenge on Friday will be finding the space to pass the ball forward.

"Obviously sometimes, especially in tournament football, you are going to be outplayed and it is just about getting the right result. We got a good result," Chamberlain said. "I think I did OK, just OK. I think it was a bit frustrating for me getting space to do what I like to do and run at people.

"I like to find space out wide but the way we play, we like to play compactly, and I think we had to against a good French team who almost overran us in midfield."

But while Sweden coach Erik Hamren was berating his "cowards" for falling to a 2-1 loss to co-host Ukraine on Monday, Hodgson was praising his team's grit and determination.

It didn't help that the England players appeared to wilt more in the Ukrainian heat than their counteparts, who appeared to be more forward thinking by wrapping their players in ice jackets at half time.

Now England has four days to recover before taking on Sweden on Friday in its second Group D match in what should be cooler conditions in Kyiv.

The newspapers the fans read back home on Tuesday were also resoundingly positive, reflecting contentment that Hodgson's side avoided defeat in his first competitive match in charge of England.

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