It was a brilliant result for England.
I don’t care what some of the doubters are saying – that the game was dull and we did not show enough adventure.
The team have filled their boots with confidence after their draw with France – and I’m certain that will propel them through the group games to a certain quarter-final tie.
And manager Roy Hodgson should now field exactly the same team for our next game against Sweden for continuity and confidence purposes.
The one point from the opening game is not the only benefit of the result. What matters when you share the points is whether or not you got more than you expected – or deserved – or whether you feel cheated out of all three points.
The effect of the former is that it leaves you sighing with relief whilst the latter makes you feel like under-achievers and bitterly resentful with your luck.
For England against France it was neither. But the draw with a French team that has now gone unbeaten for 22 games left the team feeling elated.
The players and officials were so happy at their achievement that the aircraft that returned them from Donetsk to Cracow was dubbed the “happy” plane, such was the positive mood on board.
That’s because the most vital thing that England had to achieve was avoiding defeat. And they not only did that; they put on a show that has given everybody – players and fans alike – the realistic belief that they can hold their heads high now with any team in the competition.
France was a huge psychological test. In the Euro championships in Portugal in 2004 we played France in the opening game and lost to a late winner. So this week we had to get the psychological monkey off our back.
The biggest positive was, without doubt, the performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There wasn’t one individual magic moment that defined his game but his overall approach was one of great enthusiasm and total commitment and when you have somebody on the pitch with that sort of attitude it is infectious. It clearly spread to people like James Milner.
Some commentators are suggesting that the Ox didn’t do enough to retain his place for the game against Sweden but I think that’s rubbish. We know there is going to be a change to the team in the third game against the Ukraine because Wayne Rooney will be coming back. But until then why change anything?
The 11 men who started feel really good about themselves and that in itself builds camaraderie. They feel they’ve struck a blow for their country on foreign soil and that they are carrying the flag of St. George for the thousands of fans who’ve gone out to the tournament and the millions who are watching at home.
A team in that mood will get better the longer they play together.
We’ve also got the opportunity to grab all 3 points against Sweden after they got bashed up by hosts Ukraine. The Swedes will be stressed out by their result. They are now totally up against it because they know if they lose – or possibly even draw – against England they are out of the competition. They will be edgy and vulnerable to the sort of pace that the Ox can produce. We’ve got to show the Scandinavians no mercy from the start and that’s a job for the 11 who started the French game.
I don’t like to be critical of any aspect of the England performance but I wish Theo Walcott had been brought on earlier than the 90th minute. He has even more pace than his Arsenal team-mate Ox-Cham and in the intense heat in which the game was played he could have introduced Ferrari-like speed which should have caused the French all sorts of problems.
Everybody tells me that if all players were fit, James Milner wouldn’t even get on the England bench. But his work-rate is phenomenal. It’s a real pity he couldn’t convert the chance he carved out so beautifully when he hit the side-netting.
Joe Hart made a couple of fantastic saves but I believe he was at fault for the goal from his Manchester City team-mate Nasri. Commentators were falling over themselves to point out that he saw the shot late but that’s cobblers. Nasri had time to weigh up which side of the goal he was going to go for and I think Hart was just slow in getting down to the shot. I’m not sure whether he thought it might have been going wide.
Results so far now all point to a great clash with Ukraine in the final group game. Hopefully by then we will have four points in the bag so a draw would probably secure our passage through.
It was bad luck for the England band after driving 2,500 miles to Donetsk. They were banned from taking their instruments into the ground.
Mind you I’ve sat pretty close to them in stadia all over the world and I have to say a match without the blaring trumpets and the thumping drums might have been a blessed relief – with apologies to the boys for their dedication.
Predictions for tonight:
Greece 2 Czech Republic 0
The Czechs were battered 4-1 by the Russians in their opening game. They will be short on confidence whereas the Greeks have only lost once in their last 22 fixtures. Salpingidis is the Greek danger man and I expect him and his team-mates to effectively boot The Czechs out of the competition this evening.
Poland 1 Russia 4
The Russians must be one of the favourites for the competition after their storming opening victory against the Czechs. They are certainly the most confident team in the competition at the moment with their coach Dick Advocaat saying “We can only get better. Dzagoev will be amongst the goals again following his opening brace and I expect Russia to be the first country to confirm their place in the quarter-finals.