Donetsk, Ukraine: Wilting in the heat and technically inferior to the French, England escaped with a draw from their first European Championship opener. And France, with the flair and guile England lacked for most of the match, will be ruing a missed opportunity. "The side that played the most football was France," France coach Laurent Blanc said.
That was borne out in the statistics. While the French completed 634 passes, their opponents managed just 307 while having less than 40 per cent of possession in what was largely a containment exercise by Roy Hodgson's side.
France defender Patrice Evra compared England's defensive tactics with Chelsea's in the Champions League last season. But they succeeded for the London club, which dispatched Barcelona and then overcame Bayern Munich to lift the European Cup last month.
\"The side that played the most football was France,\" France coach Laurent Blanc said after the 1-1 draw.
"We are frustrated," France defender Patrice Evra said. "I think we played much better. In the end it was a draw and we are a little bit frustrated. At times it was like there were 15 bodies on the field at times.
"It was really difficult for us to find the space. They played in the way that Chelsea played against Barcelona. People laugh. Maybe they want England to play more football, but if they win the tournament like that, they will be happy."
England were left relying on the brute force of central midfielders Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to block the French attacks, with the solidity of the back-four and goalkeeper Joe Hart providing the shield to neutralise Karim Benzema.
"You can question the team all you want, but you'll always get belief, pride and quality," goalkeeper Joe Hart said. "People forget that we're England and we're a good side. In that first 25 minutes, they weren't ready for us."
While French players looked comfortable with the ball, England players' first touch was often heavy, taking the ball that crucial distance away when it should appear glued to the foot of top players. The inexperienced attack was too easily dispossessed or saw the passes go astray.
England players celebrated the teamwork. "It was a really good collective performance," England defender Joleon Lescott said. "It was a really hard game to start off with. We had to be organised and ... our work ethic was important."
There was a buzz early in the match, inspired by teenage winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on just his second England start, although his influence became more limited. "He's still got a lot of learning to do," Gerrard said. "But playing with experienced players, he'll pick that up."
England did expose the French defensive frailties on the half-hour when centre-back Lescott headed England in front from Gerrard's free kick. But nine minutes later, Hart was beaten at his near post when Samir Nasri completed a flowing French move.
It was just the kind of fluid surge and one-touch football that England couldn't reproduce. But while France is now on a 22-match unbeaten run, Monday's draw was only England's third consecutive unbeaten match — all under Hodgson in the last month. But the new coach hopes England has now established itself as a side hard to beat as he prepares for Sweden and co-host Ukraine in the rest of the group stage.
"You don't become a really good team in three matches and 10 training sessions," the former Inter Milan and Liverpool manager said. "The French have gone 22 games unbeaten and they've not done that overnight. It's been a long process, people playing together and getting to know each other's games. The longer we play together, the better we'll become too."