After all the speculation and theory of the past few weeks, England's UEFA EURO 2012 campaign finally got under way with a 1-1 draw against France yesterday – and there's plenty of reason to be satisfied.
The performance itself didn't really tell us anything new. Roy Hodgson teams are always well-organised defensively and England were certainly that against the French, limiting them to long-range shots throughout, one of which, from Samir Nasri, found its way through a forest of legs to beat Joe Hart at his near post.
Prior to that 39th-minute equaliser, England had begun positively, probing their opponents' defence and making the breakthrough with half an hour gone as Joleon Lescott rose to head in a superb Steven Gerrard delivery. By that stage, James Milner had already spurned a glaring opportunity, sending the ball wide after rounding France keeper Hugo Lloris.
There's no denying that Laurent Blanc's side commandeered the helm after levelling. Their 15 shots on target to England's one tells its own story, but as Chelsea FC proved in the UEFA Champions League this season, it's not always the most adventurous team that prevails in modern football.
Aside from being bested by Nasri's firm low drive, Hart confirmed his credentials as a top-class custodian in his first-ever appearance at a major tournament. Understandably there were a couple of hesitant moments when he came for crosses early on, yet the 25-year-old grew into the game and made a number of important saves, most notably from Alou Diarra's point-blank header and Karim Benzema's powerful low shot.
Also impressive was lone striker Danny Welbeck, particularly in the early exchanges. The Manchester United FC forward showed agility and pace to beat his marker on numerous occasions and remained a viable outlet up front throughout.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can also be proud of his first competitive international. Bravely thrust into the team by Hodgson, the 18-year-old fully understood his brief to get at France's less mobile back line. Yes, he was foiled a few times, but England need someone who is willing to take players on and the Arsenal FC winger will only improve with experience.
Indeed there were plenty of positives to be taken, along with the creditable Group D point gained. England reiterated that they are going to be tough for any side to beat in Poland and Ukraine, and anyone worried that they lack the attacking nous to win matches should remember that a certain Wayne Rooney is yet to return.
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