France came from behind to force a 1-1 draw with England on Monday as a cagey Euro 2012 opener between the Group D rivals ended in a stalemate.
Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott headed England into a 30th-minute lead to leave Roy Hodgson’s men dreaming of the perfect start to their campaign on a sweltering night at the Donbass Arena, but Lescott’s City teammate Samir Nasri struck back with a 39th-minute equalizer, lashing a low shot from outside the area to give France a share of the points and extend Les Bleus’ unbeaten run to 22 games.
England coach Roy Hodgson was more than happy to have shared the spoils.
“I think we played well as we we played against a tough team,” Hodgson said. “We were very disciplined, and to finish 1-1 and ask the questions of them we did, we’ve got to be happy.”
His French counterpart Laurent Blanc believed it was the correct outcome.
“We’re not entirely thrilled, but we’re not entirely disappointed either,” Blanc said.
A cagey opening period saw both sides begin cautiously and it was 11 minutes before anyone got a shot on goal, with Nasri’s low shot flying just wide of Manchester City teammate Joe Hart’s post.
Yet England seemed far from cowed by the occasion and they should have taken the lead four minutes later when Ashley Young slipped in James Milner with a lovely through pass that caught the France defense square.
The Manchester City midfielder rounded Hugo Lloris with his first touch, but then failed to find the net from a tight angle.
Moments later, Yohan Cabaye tested Hart from long range, the City goalkeeper diving to his left to stop his low strike.
England’s bright opening yielded its reward on 30 minutes with the breakthrough coming from a set-piece.
Captain Steven Gerrard swung in a pinpoint free-kick from the right flank and Lescott took advantage of the space afforded him by Alou Diarra to head past Lloris from close range.
Yet the England goal was the cue for a period of dominance from France which lasted until the halftime whistle.
Diarra almost made immediate amends with a header of his own, Hart parrying high after the defensive midfielder met Nasri’s pinpoint free-kick.
In the ensuing scramble Franck Ribery headed back across goal, but Diarra’s second effort went wide.
A French equalizer seemed on though and it arrived through Nasri six minutes from halftime, the forward taking advantage of England’s midfield standing too deep to squeeze a ferocious shot just inside Hart’s post.
England seemed content to slow the pace of the game in the second half and they passed the ball confidently without ever threatening France.
Gradually France’s superior technique began to tell and England spent long periods of the closing minutes on the back foot.
Though England seemed to be tiring rapidly in the final stages, France were unable to find the winner as the match wound down, with Benzema’s late strike parried by Hart.