The expectations are pretty low this time around in a marked contrast with the World Cup in South Africa. The England team has disappointed so many times, that they entered the Euro 2012 competition very much the underdogs. Even more so in their first match against France, a new, young team that has proven to be a powerful force in Europe.
And so we find ourselves in Donetsk, in the Ukraine. The temperature was high (32°), the English fans outnumbered the French, the battle lines were drawn. Breathlessly and with nothing to lose that we hadn’t lost already, I watched the game in glorious High Definition.
From the kick-off the England team showed that it wasn’t going to just sit back and defend a 0-0 scoreline for the 90 minutes. It was a case of settling for both teams, short passes across the back four, occasional penetrating balls through the opposition defence and a few quick, surprising runs through on ball.
It took both teams a bit of time to settle properly but, on 21 minutes, the French gave away an easy free kick and Steve Gerrard set up to take it. His first attempt was squandered but the referee wasn’t happy with something and asked him to take it again. This would prove to be one of the only times the ref seemed to be neutral.
The second free kick flew, with pinpoint accuracy, over the heads of the French defenders, all the way across to the far post where Joleon Lescott stood unmarked and ready to head home a perfect goal. Taking nothing away from the English skill, the goalie should really have stopped it but what the hell! We were 1-0 up and the fans went crazy. As did I, waking Carmen up in the process.
However, a mere nine minutes later, Samir Nasri slotted home a beautiful goal to make it 1-1. And so it stayed for the rest of the game. Both teams had their chances to close out the game but attack was defeated by strong defence time after time.
I’ve read a few articles that claim it was a dull and uninspiring game but, for an English fan, the draw felt like a win after so much misery in the World Cup and a controversial choice of Roy Hodgeson as manager. I felt relieved! Now we have to beat Sweden on Friday, something we’ve never managed in a competitive match. Still, one game at a time with low expectations.
Strangely, both goal scorers play for the same team in the English Premiership (Manchester City) and shared a hug at the end of the game.