DONETSK, Ukraine, June 11 – France and England fought out a 1-1 draw here on Monday in their Euro 2012 Group D opening match.
England had opened the scoring in the 30th minute when Joleon Lescott rose brilliantly to meet captain Steven Gerrard’s perfectly-delivered freekick on the half hour mark and give Hugo Lloris no chance.
The French went close to drawing level in the 35th minute as midfielder Alou Diarra’s header was goalbound but England ‘keeper Joe Hart pulled off a brilliant reaction save.
However, the French did equalise in the 39th minute as Samir Nasri fired in a right-footed shot from just outside the area to beat his Manchester City clubmate Joe Hart, who dived late perhaps having been unsighted.
Nasri celebrated in rather bizarre fashion running towards the dugouts holding a finger to his lips and then mouthing to an unidentified target ‘shut your mouth’.
France had come into the match on a 21-game unbeaten run but searching for their first win in a group match at a finals since beating Togo in the 2006 World Cup.
Despite moments of promise, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was narrowly outshone by rival left winger Franck Ribery on his competitive England debut in Monday’s 1-1 draw with France at Euro 2012.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, 18, was a surprise inclusion in Roy Hodgson’s starting line-up and became the second-youngest player to represent England at a European Championship after Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004.
Rooney’s performances in Portugal eight years ago announced his arrival as a major talent on the global scene, and although Arsenal’s Oxlade-Chamberlain showed glimpses of his class, he found himself eclipsed by the resurgent Ribery.
The Bayern Munich winger has long been lambasted for failing to reproduce his club form in the blue shirt of his country, but he scored three goals in France’s three warm-up matches and he was influential again at Donbass Arena.
In the first half, he was at the source of much of France’s best football, slipping past Scott Parker on the right flank in the 13th minute and finding Yohan Cabaye, who could not get a shot away.
He headed the ball back across goal to set up Alou Diarra for a header that went narrowly wide in the 35th minute, and it was he who teed up Samir Nasri for France’s 39th-minute equaliser.
Ribery has campaigned long and loud to be allowed to play on the left, but England’s compactness in central areas obliged him to roam to the right flank and it proved fruitful territory.
Nevertheless, the 29-year-old was fortunate to escape censure for a robust challenge on Glen Johnson shortly before the hour that ought to have given England a free-kick in threatening territory.
He was also guilty, on occasion, of dwelling on the ball, and his influence diminished in the second half.
Making only his third England appearance, former Southampton player Oxlade-Chamberlain showed plenty of enterprise in the first period.
He sparked panic in the French defence by robbing Adil Rami of the ball in the third minute and then freed Ashley Young after neat footwork took him past two defenders, only for the flag to go up for offside.
Part of Hodgson’s thinking in fielding the teenager may have been to keep marauding France right-back Mathieu Debuchy occupied, but the Lille man frequently ran in behind him and drew a foul from his marker in the 34th minute that earned Oxlade-Chamberlain a booking.
Having tackled Ribery just before the hour, the pitch ahead of him opened up for a surging run, but he left the ball behind him and in the 78th minute he was replaced by Jermain Defoe.
He may not keep his place for England’s next outing, against Sweden on Friday in Kiev, but time, at least, is on his side.
The other two teams in the group co-hosts Ukraine and Sweden were to play later in Kiev.
France 1 (Nasri 39) England 1 (Lescott 30)
Hugo Lloris (capt) – Matthieu Debuchy, Adil Rami, Philippe Mexes, Patrice Evra – Samir Nasri, Yohan Cabaye (Hatem Ben Arfa 84), Alou Diarra, Florent Malouda (Marvin Martin 85), Franck Ribery – Karim Benzema
Joe Hart – Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole – James Milner, Steven Gerrard (cap), Ashley Young, Scott Parker (Jordan Henderson 78), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Jermain Defoe 77) – Daniel Welbeck (Theo Walcott 90)
Yellow cards: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (34), Ashley Young (71)
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA)