France were superb in the first half, stroking the ball around with ease, not allowing England any sort of rhythm. Samir Nasri is shaping up to be the pivot around this new Les Bleus side under Laurent Blanc. Perhaps a serious intent to make good on all those early Zidane comparisons?
Karim Benzema opened the scoring for France after Les Bleus established a beachhead in command and control. England’s scraps of possession were devoted to scooping optimistic long balls towards Andy Carroll’s head in the hopes of a knockback towards Steven Gerrard or some other player. To be fair, he did win those aerial duels but the French defense marshaled by veteran Eric Abidal closed quickly around for him to be effective. The older “more brainless “Theo Walcott emerged once again showing speed without any restraint or thought. The end product. Shabby.
The second half saw Micah Richards, Ashley Young, and Adam Johnson come on as Capello signaled his attacking intent and the tempo picked up considerably. Just when England looked like they had finally established some rhythm, Bakary Sagna made another one of his bombing runs down the right before curling a cross that Mathieu Valbuena was able to stick past Ben Foster. The collective deflation could be heard all over Europe.
The Arsenal vs Arsenal duel was won by Sagna, who was able to get past Kieran Gibbs at will. Gareth Bale take note – you might have to do some defending on Saturday.
France faded somewhat after that goal but England were unable to press the advantage. It was left to Peter Crouch, England’s greatest goal scoring machine in the post modern era coming on for the injured Steven Gerrard to pull a goal back. England had a spell for the next few minutes with Hugo Lloris looking unsettled for an equalizer but the clock ran out.
A few things. Under Laurent Blanc’s steady hand France are gradually erasing the bad memories of the World Cup. Their squad of new and old players seem to have meshed nicely and are playing attractive football. With England, every match brings new questions and new doubts. Fabio Capello made a verbal commitment to give England’s talent a fresh look but with players like Gareth Barry still making his starting XI one wonders if he is second guessing himself.