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Alfredo Matilla | 11/06/2012
As this European Championship starts to unfold, it's showing us that speaking about favourites is little more than an interesting way to while away the build up to matches; an occupation with as little science in it as trawling through the statistics of the past. In football, only the present has value. The same as Spain yesterday, France were caught out by the form of their opponents. Maybe they expected a more timid England. Less bite. But, from what we can see, crises make sides stronger. Italy showed it yesterday and, this evening, England didn't seem to miss Capello.
Blanc's team were hoping to come up against a group hanging back, unsure following a whirlwind of change and numerous injuries. Instead, they met a rock, solid in defence and intelligent in clearing their lines. France lacked fluidity, and missed quality in midfield. It's hard to believe Lass is on the beach. Cabaye's talent was the only saving grace. England too, had precious little to inspire about them; but they're not out to fool anyone. They do the basics, but they do it well.
Little to separate the teams in the first-half
At the start, France looked the surer. They slowed down the pace, believing in their quality. But they paid for their lack of a holding playmaker. Whilst they had three wonderful football players behind the centre forward in Ribéry, Nasri and Malouda, all of them seemed to home in on the centre, where the final ball is born. None had the desire to create space, or move out wide. With this tangle, Benzema strayed too far from the area in search of teammates and the French were without a target by times.
England were well-positioned with two organized lines of four. Their stoic commitment to 'plan A' eventually started to reap rewards as they began to make inroads into Lloris' box. In the first of these, they could have broken the deadlock. Cabaye, meanwhile, followed the formula of trying from middle-distance. His shot, more well-placed than threatening, neared the post on its trajectory. Hart just got a glove to the ball. In the second-half the midfielder repeated the trick with a little more intention and the same result. France remained without a goal, without seeming to know how to correct that. A lot of moves through the middle and precious little use of the wide areas. England's confidence grew with the frustration of 'les bleu'. For corners and free-kicks, they were packing out the French box with the full arsenal. They had blind faith in their chances and no fear for the consequences. It was on one of these occasions that Gerrard's curler found the head of Lescott, jumping clear of Diarra. That was enough for 1-0.
France wake up and get level
France began to act with a little more urgency, building some quicker moves. It was a dead ball situation that brought them their best opportunity, though. From Nasri's center, Diarra redeemed himself with two biting headers. Hart got in the way of the first, while the second whistled past the right post. Nasri found the equalizer after a lengthy move between his teammates on the edge of the area. He struck from some distance, as Hart arrived just too late to stop the ball going in against the post.
From then on, both teams seemed afraid to lose. A draw is not such a bad result when you haven't exactly been as good as you thought you were for 90 minutes. Ask Spain about that. England closed up in front of their goalkeeper and France pushed. Nasri almost took advantage of a gift after the restart and Benzema showed that he's got a fantastic long pass in him as well as a lethal shot. The rest had little to write home about. France controlled the game without shining. The paper 'L'Equipe' might just have to republish the headline they ran after the Spain's debut. "Dominating isn't winning". Spot on.
IMAGEN: Otro favorito que no impresiona