France and England settle for a point in Euro 2012

Posted on by SoccerPunter

France and England on Monday played out a 1-1 draw in their Euro 2012 opener in Donetsk, Ukraine, with three players from English Premier League champions Manchester City playing key roles.

City defender Joleon Lescott opened the scoring for England on the half hour, heading in a perfectly weighted Steven Gerrard free-kick from the right touch-line after Patrice Evra had bundled into James Milner.

Lescott’s clubmate Sami Nasri, though, got the French back on terms nine minutes later, hitting a well-placed, right-foot shot through a crowd of players from the edge of the penalty area low to Joe Hart’s right.

Hart, who also plays for the Premier League champions, had minutes earlier kept out a bullet header from Marseille’s Alou Diarra with a superb reflex save – one of a handful to keep the French at bay and England in the game.

The draw means France are now unbeaten in 22 games but England are likely to come away happier with the point, after a build-up hit by injuries to key players like Frank Lampard and suspension to Wayne Rooney.

“All in all we’re satisfied with the point,” said Liverpool’s Gerrard.

Co-hosts Ukraine take on Sweden in the second Group D match at 1845 GMT, with Oleg Blokhin’s side eager to impress in their first game in front of home fans in the capital Kiev.

Blokhin has said he is unsure how his players will react when they walk out in the Olympic Stadium, after disappointing pre-tournament results and a stomach bug that struck his squad.

Expectations rest on the home side’s ageing marksman Andrei Shevchenko, who guided the team to the 2006 World Cup finals and at 35 is still a potent striking force.

Home fans will also be looking to what has been billed as the Ukrainian equivalent of the South African vuvuzela – the “zozulica” – with the cuckoo-shaped traditional clay whistle thought to bring luck and chase away evil spirits.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren has said home support makes Ukraine favourites.

Thousands of Sweden fans will be at the match, though, in what is likely to be a welcome break from the mosquito-infested, unfinished riverside camp site in Kiev where they have set up base.

In neighbouring Poland, preparations for the co-hosts’ match with old rivals Russia on Tuesday stepped up a gear, with the authorities calling it their “biggest challenge”.

Organisers said 29,300 Polish fans had tickets for the match while 9,800 Russian were expected.

Fears of violence at the Group A game have mounted as Tuesday is Russia’s national day and Russia fans have already been involved in football-related violence.

“We hope that our worst fears don’t come true,” said Polish interior minister Jacek Cichocki.

Sporting encounters between the countries always have the weight of shared history and politics but some Polish media showed no sign of letting bygones be bygones.

The tabloid Super Express mocked up a picture of coach Franciszek Smuda in uniform, on horseback and clutching a sword, calling for “a second Miracle on the Vistula”, a reference to a 1920 battle won by Poland over Russia against all odds.

The Polish edition of Newsweek echoed the allusion with mention of “The Battle of Warsaw” 2012.

Police themselves were tight-lipped about the number of Russian and Polish fans that could march to the stadium but the country’s Euro 2012 spokesman, Marcin Hera, confirmed that 9,800 Russian and 29,300 Polish fans had tickets for the match.

A total 6,000 policemen are on duty in the capital during Euro 2012 but Warsaw police spokesman Maciej Karczynski refused to say how many will be deployed in Tuesday’s pre-and-post match security operation.

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