France and England renewed their fierce sporting rivalry on Monday as the two football teams battled to a 1-1 draw in their opening Group D Euro 2012 match in Donetsk, Ukraine.
"The moment of truth" is how France's coach Laurent Blanc described Monday's heavyweight Euro 2012 clash between archrivals France and England.
The crunch match, which takes place at Donetsk’s Donbass stadium, will have millions of fans in both countries glued to TV screens.
Once the whistle blows, there will be no sign of any entente cordiale as both teams aim for a victory that they hope will banish memories of recent disappointments.
For Blanc’s France team, a victory will rid French minds of any recollection of the team’s 2010 World Cup debacle, marred by player strikes off the pitch and pitiful performances on it, while three points for Roy Hodgson’s England team will help put a triumphant smile on the faces of England fans, who have been subjected to decades of failure and frustration.
Bookmakers make France the slight favourites going into the game, thanks in the main to the team’s impressive 21-game unbeaten run dating back to September 2010.
England, on the other hand, has been ravaged by injuries and will be without their talisman Wayne Rooney, who is suspended.
"Les Bleus" have reigned supreme over the England team in recent years, after not having lost to the Three Lions since 1997.
It has been 30 years since England beat France in a tournament match.
The French press, for whom "Les Bleus" have long been in the dog house, are starting to be a little more positive towards their team.
French media wary of ‘red’ English
The mood in the French press was one of tempered optimism on the day of the match that has been dubbed “Le Crunch”.
The front-page headline in sports daily “L’Equipe” simply read “The Reconquest” – urging France’s “Les Bleus” to once again conquer their old enemy across the channel in tonight’s match in Ukraine.
“L’Equipe” journalist Fabrice Jouhaud called on the French team to take its supporters on an “adventure”, to make up for the shame of the last World Cup and a dismal performance at Euro 2008. “An adventure is what we want, above all, because French football needs one,” he said.
“England, a little off balance”, read the headline in the daily “Libération”, in reference to several of England’s key players who have been injured or suspended – including their lucky talisman, Wayne Rooney.
But “L’Equipe” warned against overconfidence and said the match, which will take place in the sweltering heat of Donetsk, will be a real battle. “It will be a combat of a different intensity to what the French team has experienced of late. And it’s important to remember that the English don’t get tired in the sun, they just get red.”
French daily “Le Parisien” sounded a cautionary note with its headline: “Beware, the English do not lack resources.” Despite the loss of key players, England can “nevertheless pose a serious threat to the French”, the paper said.
With forwards Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema both rediscovering their scoring touch in recent matches, confidence is building among fans.
A survey in French football daily "L'Equipe" on Thursday revealed that 76 percent of those polled believe their team will beat England on Monday.
Former "Les Bleus" star Jerôme Rothen was dismissive of England's chances in Monday's game.
"I saw the English play against Belgium and although they won 1-0 they hardly touched the ball," Rothen told "L'Equipe".
But not everyone is expecting an easy ride against England.
“England will play very defensively and this is the type of team France will find it difficult to score against,” Eurosport’s editor-in-chief Cedric Rouquette told FRANCE 24.
“They will have a lot of the ball but that does not mean they will score the goals. It will be a lot more difficult than it looks on paper.”
Across the channel the mood is more somber.
Although the recent Queen’s Jubilee and the upcoming Summer Olympics in London have helped instil a feel-good factor, the country's football team has been shrouded in doom and gloom.
Even England’s notoriously jingoistic tabloid press have lost their usual pre-tournament cockiness.
After watching France hammer Estonia 4-0 in their final warm-up game before the tournament last week, "The Sun" newspaper’s Steve Brenner finished his report with a message for the England manager: “Good luck Roy, you are going to need it.”
“Optimism levels are low,” English football writer Jonathan Clegg told FRANCE 24.
“A draw will be considered a good result, which is uncharacteristic for England. It doesn’t have to be pretty, they just have to get a result,” adds Clegg, who will be in Ukraine covering the match for the "Wall Street Journal".
Although meetings between England and France in international tournaments are fairly rare occurrences, we have been here before.
The two teams faced off against each other in their opening match of the European Championships in 2004 – a game remembered fondly by the French.
England led 1-0, and when Mikael Silvestre chopped down a rampaging Wayne Rooney to concede a penalty, England looked set for victory. But David Beckham missed and Zinedine Zidane went on to score two late goals. The rest, as they say, is l’histoire.
The two teams also met in the group stages of Euro ‘92 in Sweden when they played out a turgid goalless draw, before both were knocked out of the competition.
France’s expansion v England’s austerity
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron will be watching the match, or at least “keeping a close eye on the score”, a Downing Street press officer told FRANCE 24. An England win would give the PM useful bragging rights for when he next meets French President François Hollande at an EU summit at the end of June.
Ironically, the choice of tactics each team is set to employ on the pitch tonight reflects the favoured strategies of the two countries' leaders when it comes to tackling the financial crisis.
England’s Hodgson will likely want his team to be first and foremost austere in defence, whereas Blanc favours a more expansive approach with a greater emphasis on creating goal-scoring opportunities.
A question of pride
Paris-based France supporter Nico Roux said the match against England was another chance to demonstrate France's dominance over the English when it comes to football.
"Monday's match is a unique chance for the French squad to revive the spirit of the late ‘90s and win back the fans by beating their oldest enemy. The game is also an opportunity to prove that even if the Premier League is bigger than our Ligue 1, football in France is fundamentally stronger than in England."
The clash will also mean a great deal to England’s legion of expat supporters who have made their home in France. A loss to "Les Bleus" would no doubt make their lives in their adopted country a little less pleasurable over the coming weeks and months.
Many English fans living in Paris are expected to descend on the capital's numerous British pubs to watch Monday’s match.
Ed Hayes, manager of the Bowler pub in Paris’ 8th district, told FRANCE 24 the game was all about not losing face.
“Every time we play France I just hope we don’t lose, so I am not embarrassed when I have to show my face to our French customers the next day,” said Hayes, who will fly out to Ukraine today to attend the game.
“I’m nervous," he said. "There’s no expectation on the team and anything can happen, but I just hope they don’t embarrass themselves.”
Date created : 2012-06-06