France, England Duel to a Draw
Although separated by just 21 miles by the English Channel, the fortunes of English and French national soccer could not be further apart so far in 2012. England have changed coaches, suffered key injuries to players, and have had to deal with claims of racism within the camp - not to mention that they’ll be without star player Wayne Rooney for the first two games of Euro 2012.
By contrast, France is coming into the game on the back of a 4-0 beating of Estonia, which extended Laurent Blanc’s unbeaten run as coach to 21 matches.
But this is French football - there was a mutiny among the players at the 2010 World Cup and a loss to then-relative unknowns Senegal in the 2002 World Cup despite being the reigning World and European Champions. Les Bleus have generally been searching for a new direction since Zinedine Zidane retired.
But things don’t look great for England ahead of the opening game of Group D, with Roy Hodgson’s team having lost four of their last five games against their old rivals to the east. England went unbeaten in qualifying, winning five and drawing three of their eight matches - but that was with Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Rooney who are all missing for a variety of reasons.
England has never won the European Championship, and didn’t even qualify for the last tournament in Austria and Switzerland. England’s best result in the tournament came in 1996, when they were hosts when they lost on penalty kicks to Germany in the semifinals.
France has won the Euros twice, first in 1984 when they were the hosts, when current UEFA President Michel Platini was the tournament’s top scorer and best player. Their second tournament victory came in 2000 when they beat Italy 2-1 in the final, becoming the first reigning World Cup winners to also win the Euros.
The game in Donetsk, Ukraine should see England try to establish a new identity, while France will look to build on their recent run of good results. It’s forecast to be a little cagey - but my predictions are notoriously terrible, so look for a 4-3 French win!