England must turn up heat on ice cold France

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The intense Donetsk heat will provide a fitting enviroment at the Donbass Arena, as England try and match the Ukrainian incalescence with their own performance against an ice cold, technically superior France.

On the face of it, the fixture should throw up a close-fought match. England's recent record against France (no wins in their last five meetings) and the turmoil they enter the tournament amidst suggests otherwise.

England will be relying on something less tangible than technical ability or the swift, precise movement possessed by the French to help snatch three desperately needed points from their first Euro 2012 encounter tonight; the difference between the two sides is perhaps currently at its greatest since the turn of the century, at least in terms of personnel and shape going into the tournament.

Of all people, France manager Laurent Blanc is aware of the contrast ahead of this most vital of games.

"If we play the English way then it'll be 0-0 and we might get a goal from a set-piece," he said.

"We'll play our own game. I hope the side that plays more football will win the game, but it's not always the case that that happens in football."

France find themselves in the midst of their second longest ever unbeaten run with 21 games passing since they last tasted defeat. More than 700 days have passed since their capitulation in South Africa and since then Blanc has hailed his first real victory in charge of Les Blues as reestablishing the team spirit that was decimated amidst training ground scuffles and a team coach sit in at the World Cup.

Karim Benzema has been handed his wings by Jose Mourinho at club level and is now flying Les Tricolores for his country. A two-tiered top class midfield including Samir Nasri, Yann M’Villa (if fit) and most likely Yohan Cabaye will ensure the ball they covet so dearly will be in their possession for much of the game. Olivier Giroud burst onto the scene to help carry Montpellier to the Ligue 1 title this season. Franck Ribery needs no such introduction.

England meanwhile have waived something of a white flag already. Five or six players put forward for press conferences since Hodgson took charge little more than a month ago have talked about the importance of being hard to beat, of sealing off any possible leaks in their watertight unit.

Their two friendly victories under the former West Brom manager have amply demonstrated just that. Effective, yes. Limited and unpleasant on the eye, certainly.

England expects very little during this tournament. A nation has braced itself for a pragmatic approach with little expected of one of the most underwhelming England squads for some time.

Injury has pillaged England of some of their most reliable and exciting performers over the past few weeks, pseudo scandal has threatened to distract from the issue at hand. Most agree Hodgson and his squad are on a hiding to nothing in the coming three weeks – Hodgson himself admits they have the capacity to be ‘the most torrid’ of his career.

But England will seek solace in the events of the recent past. This is not a season in which artists have excelled, instead it is the painters and decorators that have won the matches having gone through a mountain of work. Chelsea laid down the blueprint, Denmark followed suit against the Netherlands on Saturday.

And in any case, football often operates with the broadest of strokes - Hodgson's men will not rely absolutely on stoic defence as Chelsea did.

England, a proud footballing nation if both Roy Hodgson and Steven Gerrard’s reaction to a pesky French journalist’s inference that England are not considered a major footballing nation is anything to go by will not tolerate being dominated for 90 minutes, even if they have little choice but to be so. At the very least they will have to try – lord knows this small island loves a trier.

England will no doubt be hard to beat but they will not conceded ground quite as willingly as Chelsea did in the Champions League in midfield. Men as tenacious as Gerrard and Scott Parker will not allow themselves to be so easily dominated. Both Gerrard and Hodgson have eminated a calm confidence in the past few days, something which is eveidently rubbing off on fans if the growing belief in the Three Lions is anything to go by.

The potential inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a timely injection of pace into a one-speed team; if Danny Welbeck is given the nod over Andy Carroll then England will truly posses pace on the counter to test a French defence which has raised a few eyebrows in recent weeks.

And France for all their virtues are by no means a perfectly lubricated machine. Phillipe Mexes and Patrice Evra have proved themselves to be vulnerable in the build up to this game while the potential absence of MVila robs Les Blues of a midfield metronome who dictates much of their pace and rhythm.

Both Italy and Spain demonstrated yesterday they possess a level of technical ability that England aspire to but as yet are nowhere near, for now they will have to rely on more traditional English traits; zeal, hard work and passion, of which they must desperately hope to add a drop of inspiration to in order to succeed.

This evening they must demonstrate, as they did against reigning European Champions Spain in November last year that qualities such as passion and desire are not relics from the past in the modern game, but qualities needed to drive to victory. It is all they have at their disposal at this moment in time to combat a patently superior French side.

At around midday the mercury hit 37 degrees in the Ukrainian city. England will need to generate an equal amount of white hot heat to ensure France’s cool veneer melts. Only then will we see if France can stand the heat or if they need to get out of the kitchen.

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Steven Gerrard

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