France 1-1 England
Things are gone very wrong in English football when they play the way they did and celebrate the result.
Hodgson is doing the best with what he has, but what he has is incredibly underwhelming. England went out today and played like Ireland. The midfield backed off, becoming just a second line of defence. The forwards, Welbeck and Young, had a total lack of decent supply and spent much of the game just standing in the French half. Parker was anonymous. Milner was unreliable. Chamberlain was impressive for being thrown into such a cauldron, but couldn’t really do much with his pace.
With that, it was down to the defence, and they did their job admirably enough. France resembled Spain in the way their game revolved around a serious of short passes, moving from flank to flank and back again, probing for opportunities, the overlaps. But it was a frustrating day for them, especially for Benzema, similarly starved of supply and space. Nasri took his goal really well, but it was a rare moment of genuine brilliance from what was an otherwise dour game, with both sides struggling in the heat. Lescott’s goal was against the run of play and if anyone was going to win it, it would have been France, but for the smothering job the eight man England defence pulled off.
France will regret being unable to win this game, but can at least look forward to a more open contest against Ukraine. England are going to have come out of their shell at some point, and may fancy their chances against the Swedes, or possibly the co-hosts once Rooney is back. But their prospects are not looking good, as evidenced by the lengthy periods of silence from the English support.
Ukraine 2-1 Sweden
A much better game to close out the day, especially in the second half.
It was a match of two domineering personalities. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden’s darling, but has courted plenty of criticism for his lack of big game presence and nonchalantness. His goal today was a well worked tap in and he struggled to be very effective otherwise, save the header in the first half. The Swedish didn’t play bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they lacked a real killer instinct in front of goal, especially after going behind. They had the opportunity to get something out of this game and failed to take it. They had a glut of chances after all, but seemed incapable of taking most of them.
For Ukraine, it’s a dream start, coming from behind with star man Shevchenko, largely absent from the popular footballing consciousness after moving back to Dynamo Kiev, nabbing both goals. They were both excellent poaching headers too, especially the second. Shevchenko, well into his thirties, is likely taking his final bow at this tournament, and to win the opening game in such a manner, in his home stadium is quite the story. And while Ukraine might be a bit reliant on him, they still played a committed, attacking game, charging forward whenever the opportunity arose. Their goalie and defence aren’t terribly solid, but that’s something they can work on.
They’ll have to, facing into a game against the French on Friday. France have a better attack then Sweden, so Shevchenko and company will have to improve the defensive aspect of their play. As for Sweden, they just have to get better in front of goal, which will be difficult if the English backline plays the tactical game as it did today. They need a result though.
One round of games is done. Second round is the last chance saloon for many.