England earns important draw with France

England's Joleon Lescott (left) heads the ball in front of France's Samir Nasri during their Euro...

England's Joleon Lescott (left) heads the ball in front of France's Samir Nasri during their Euro 2012 match in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday, June 11, 2012. (Michael Buholzer/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:32 PM ET

DONETSK, UKRAINE - The black cloud of doom and gloom that hovered over England as the players walked onto the pitch at the magnificent Donbass Arena Monday rivaled the sooty smoke that regularly belches out of the various smokestacks in this Ukrainian mining centre.

England's manager, Roy Hodgson, was at the helm of the Three Lions for just the third time since taking over the job in April.

England's top striker, Wayne Rooney, had his rump planted in the stadium stands, unavailable against the favoured French because he suffered one of his frequent brain cramps during qualifying, leaving him to serve the first game of his two match suspension.

One of England's veteran leaders, Frank Lampard, suffered a thigh injury while training for Euro 2012 and was ruled out of the tournament just weeks before the competition.

In warm-ups prior to the game, goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence blew out his Achilles tendon. He'll immediately head back to England to undergo surgery.

And, to top it all off, the English were facing a resurgent French side that had entered the match on a 21-game unbeaten run and looked to build on that total against an team that came to the Ukraine with more questions than answers swirling over it.

Add in the fact that temperatures on the pitch approached 40 C, and you had to figure the signs all pointed to an England loss.

Even the rabid English fan base back home had its concerns, with thousands choosing not to make the trek to Euro 2012, partially because of the ridiculous prices for lodging here, partially because, as captain Steven Gerrard admitted the other day, of less-than-high expectations.

Yet this time, with adversity staring them squarely in the eye, with plenty of legitimate excuses at their disposal, with much of the soccer world expecting them to shrivel, England did not fold.

Instead, Hodgson's side came out of its opening game of Euro 2012 with a well-earned 1-1 draw against the French, a legitimate stepping stone as it wades deeper into this competition.

"It certainly gives us a solid foundation moving forward," summed up midfielder Scott Parker.

Perhaps the best example of England's dedication to turn the page on the past and start a new younger era came in the form of midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a raw 18-year-old kid who got the call in the starting 11. The terrific teen didn't disappoint either, especially in the first half when his pinpoint passes sliced through the seams of the French defence onto the waiting cleats of his teammates.

"I am pleased with the way he played, but I think he deserved the start," Hodgson said. "He played well against Belgium (in a pre-tournament friendly). He has the ability to skip past defenders."

That, in itself, was enough to convince the manager.

"I told him before the game, 'This is a big occasion but there will be plenty of big occasions for you in an English jersey. Just do what you do.'"

Oxlade-Chamberlain did just that.

And so, for that matter, did defender Joleon Wescott, whose perfect header in the 28th minute cleanly beat French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Having fallen behind 1-0, France pushed the offensive envelope and tied the score before the end of the half on a bullet from the boot of Samir Nasri, whose effort from outside the box whizzed past English goalie Joe Hart on the short side.

England defenders played a deep line for much of the match, a game plan that paid off in the end. The French, who admittedly carried the play at times, had very few opportunities inside the box.

For Hodgson, gaining the valuable point was a step in the right direction. But there remains plenty of work to do.

"I've only had three games (to manage here)," he said. "If you say, 'Have they done everything you've asked,' I'd say a resounding yes. If you ask:,'What does it mean in the long run,' who knows?"

We know this much: While it wasn't an overwhelming performance, it was certainly a promising start.

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