France v England – Euro 2012 Previews
Not for a very long time has an England team gone into a major finals with such low expectation. In a stark contrast to recent World Cups and European Championships, hardly any England fans feel their team has any chance of success in Euro 2012 despite being placed in one of the weakest-looking groups. They have, of course, lost their coach since making sure of qualification with a 2-2 draw in Montenegro.
That was a fateful match in more than one way as talisman Wayne Rooney was red-carded meaning he misses England’s first two matches in the Ukraine, though he’s hardly had a major impact in big tournaments for his country. Fabio Capello based his team and tactics around Rooney so it will be interesting to see what role he will play under Roy Hodgson though, of course, that won’t become apparent until England play the co-hosts in their final group game and, if things have gone badly, it may be academic by then.
Without Rooney, the England squad does really lack some sparkle. The remaining strikers either lack experience or haven’t been regulars at their club sides and the midfield looks very lightweight now that Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard have dropped out. Neither skipper Steven Gerrard nor holding midfielder Scott Parker have had a trouble-free preparation either. There seems to be very little middle ground between a clutch of international novices and the experienced players, many of which are the wrong side of 30. The likes of Joe Hart and Phil Jones are the future for England but it’s difficult to see Hodgson’s squad troubling the top teams and the 13/8 about a French victory will attract some though they, too, have their problems.
England may be starved of creativity in midfield but France aren’t exactly overflowing with inventiveness in that area either. Doubly strange, then, that Les Bleus’ coach Laurent Blanc has opted to leave Lyon’s Yoann Gourcuff at home with doubts surrounding the fitness of anchorman Yann M’Vila. They could also hit problems if one of only three centre-backs picks up an injury and no-one seems able to explain the presence of seven full-backs in the final 23. Bayern Munich’s Frank Ribery and Real Madrid ‘s Karim Benzema are among France best-known forwards but there is a strong Premier League presence in the squad with Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny, Gael Clichy, Yohan Cabaye, Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda and Hatem Ben Arfa all involved and they’ll be able to give Blanc valuable insight into the England players’ strengths and weaknesses.
France beat England more convincingly than the 2-1 scoreline suggests in a friendly at Wembley in 2010 but neither side were at anywhere near full strength that night. England haven’t beaten the French since 1997 and have lost three of their last four meetings, including a 2-1 defeat in the European Championships in 2004. Not since 1982 has there been more than three goals in a game between the two sides, however, so backing Under 3.5 Total Goals at 1/6 looks a safe bet. We’ll take the England defence to hold firm and hang on for a draw at 11/5.