England holds on for 1-1 draw with France

Associated Press
France's Karim Benzema, right, makes an unsuccessful attempt at goal past England goalkeeper Joe Hart during the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group D match between France and England in Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, June 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — England went 1-for-1 in a 1-1 draw with France.

Joleon Lescott scored England's lone goal on England's lone shot on target a few minutes before Samir Nasri equalized as the teams finished even in Group D of the European Championship.

"I think we have to be happy with that," France coach Laurent Blanc said. "We were too timid at the start. There was a bit of pressure that got to us, and then we got better actually after we conceded the goal. That's when we started playing."

England took the lead in the 30th minute when captain Steven Gerrard curled in a free kick from the right after Patrice Evra had fouled James Milner, and Lescott was able to nod the ball past France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

France's equalizer was all about one-touch football as Florent Malouda, Evra and Franck Ribery flicked the ball around the left side of England's penalty area to free up space for Nasri, who put in a low shot before England goalkeeper Joe Hart could react.

"The England defense was really low, so I had to take a shot," Nasri said. "The weird thing is Joe Hart knows me from Manchester City, and knows I normally I open my (instep), so this time I closed it."

The French team finished the match with 19 shots, 15 of them on target. England managed three shots, but only the one on target.

The draw means France has still not won a match at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup. The national team, however, is unbeaten in its last 22 matches.

When Nasri celebrated his goal, he shouted "Ferme ta geule," or "Shut your mouth." He then brought his finger to his lips as if telling someone to keep quiet.

The gesture was aimed as a French journalist from sports daily L'Equipe, who had questioned his form in an article the day before the match.

"These are individual and personal reactions. They are always something we don't always expect," Blanc said. "He was happy to have scored a good goal."

England coach Roy Hodgson said he didn't notice Nasri's actions.

"Did he? Not to me, he didn't," Hodgson said. "Had he said a few words to me in French, I could have replied."

Nasri's goal was more than just an equalizer because it helped the French avoid yet another setback after the calamity of their 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008 campaigns — where the players returned home shamefaced following first-round exits.

"I'm confident in our chances. It's our goal to reach the quarterfinals," Nasri said. "We didn't lose, so it's really important to be focused and turn our heads to the game against Ukraine (on Friday)."

Despite being outwitted by his Manchester City teammate on the goal, Hart made key saves to preserve the draw.

"It was tough in those last 15 or 20 minutes," Hodgson said. "It was fortunate I had some players to put on to give them a break."

In the final seconds, Hart pushed away Karim Benzema's goal-bound strike. Moments before, the Real Madrid forward's curling effort was heading for the top corner until it was headed clear, and Yohan Cabaye's controlled shot in the 80th minute beat Hart but was deflected away just before it reached the bottom corner.

"All in all we're satisfied with a point," said Gerrard, whose team will next face Sweden on Friday.

In a strange atmosphere at the Donbass Arena, French fans struggled to make themselves heard and England's supporters were sometimes drowned out by a large amount of fans chanting "Russia, Russia."

Hodgson handed 18-year-old midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a surprise start — his third appearance for England.

"Wayne Rooney showed all those years ago that if you're good enough, you're old enough," Gerrard said, referring to Rooney's impressive performances as an 18-year-old player at Euro 2004. "Oxlade-Chamberlain showed tonight he is good enough for this level."

England should have taken the lead in the 15th when Milner ran onto Ashley Young's perfectly weighted pass behind the defense, got around Lloris but then hit the side netting.

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Lineups:

France: Hugo Lloris, Mathieu Debuchy, Adil Rami, Philippe Mexes, Patrice Evra, Yohan Cabaye (Hatem Ben Afra, 84) Alou Diarra, Florent Malouda (Marvin Martin, 85), Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery.

England: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole, James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker (Jordan Henderson, 78), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Jermin Defoe, 77), Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck (Theo Walcott, 90).

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