Euro 2012: Expert v Expert Preview - England v France


English perspective: Iain Macintosh

The time has come. Let's do it for Bobby Moore, for Bobby Charlton, for Sir... why are all of our best players called Bobby? 46 years of hurt never stopped me dreaming. But our slightly mediocre squad might.

England face a resurgent France side, hoping for a flying start in modest-looking Group D. A win would put us in with a great chance of progressing to our eventual penalty shootout demise; a draw or loss would boost the hopes of Sweden and hosts Ukraine. No pressure then.

Unfortunately for England, Roy Hodgson's mind has probably been on other things this week. Plunged into a media whirlpool following his decision not to replace the injured Gary Cahill with Rio Ferdinand, the former West Brom manager has been hastily - and unconvincingly -  back-tracking ever since. He will be glad to finally have something to take the attention away from his selection policy.

While Martin Kelly may have been given the number 5 jersey in Cahill's absence, it is Joleon Lescott who really stands to benefit: he'll start alongside John Terry in central defence. That pair will need to be at their best to halt the in-form Karim Benzema.

Up front, it appears that Danny Welbeck will get the nod, and will play just ahead of Ashley Young. The Manchester United connection could be a winning one, but it would mean that Stewart Downing plays on the left, which is never a good thing. James Milner will probably occupy the other flank, meaning that England's threat will come almost exclusively down the middle.

Perhaps our best chance is to flood the midfield and cling on for dear life. A draw would be a great result, but it will be tough going against Laurent Blanc's boys.

Score prediction: England 1-2 France

Both teams to score at 2.15; France to win 2-1 at 11.00; Danny Welbeck to score at 4.4.

French perspective: Alexander Netherton

France are comfortably the best side of the group, so anything less than a victory would be a failure.

France aren't impressive at the back, however. They have Hugo Lloris, who probably deserves to be playing in the best leagues of the moment - the Bundesliga or La Liga - but he's a lone bright spot. At right-back, Mathieu Debuchy is impressive but inexperienced. Philip Mexes and Adil Rami seem established in the middle of defence, but only by default. The left-back berth is still not settled; Eric Abidal had the position before a liver transplant, and the decision is now between Patrice Evra, who is experienced but out of form, and Gael Clichy, who is presently competent but prone to a gargantuan soiling.

In midfield, things are mildly less troubled. Florent Malouda has shown been used an unusually deep position and his recent performances have been of a higher quality than his Chelsea form betrayed. Defensive responsibilities are usually given to Yann M'Vila, but he and his likely replacement Blaise Matuidi are both injured, meaning one or both of Alou Diarra and Yohan Cabaye will make up the midfield with Malouda. 

Further up the pitch, Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri should start on the left and right respectively, possibly joined by Jeremy Menez behind the striker. Ribery has shown flashes of his true ability in recent friendlies, after years of failing to perform for France. 

Most predictably, and most importantly for France, Karim Benzema will start up front. Having had his best season for Real Madrid since his transfer from Lyon, he might show the insular England team what they missed when he eschewed Manchester United. 

There's every chance that England can score against a poor France defence, but there's also an almost gratuitously grotesque technical superiority that this France team have over their wretchedly two-dimensional opponents.

Score Prediction: England 1-3 France

Karem Benzema to score first at 6.00; Franck Ribery to score at 4.30; France to win 3-1 at 24.00.