Soccer Magazine

Fragile at the Back, but Giroud is the Real Deal: What Hodgson Will Have Learned from France 3-2 Iceland

By Sungame31 @sungame31

England's first Euro 2012 opponents stumbled to victory as their preparations for Ukraine and Poland started slowly but the Montpellier striker provided a reason for optimism

Friendly : Karim Benzema vs Logi Valgardsson (France vs Iceland)
Roy Hodgson's tenure as England manager got off to an underwhelming start against Scandinavian opposition on Saturday, and on Sunday, Laurent Blanc's France also flattered to deceive when they faced Iceland

Les Bleus, unbeaten in their last 19 matches, are the Three Lions' first obstacle at Euro 2012, so what will the former West Brom boss have learned about Blanc's side from their topsy-turvy 3-2 win in Valenciennes?

Firstly, and put quite simply, the French aren't very good at the back.
Captain for the night Philippe Mexes was dragged into all over the place by the Icelandic front line, failing to cover Adil Rami properly for Birkir Bjarnason's opener, before he was comprehensively outpaced by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, who doubled the visitors' lead in the first half.


Fragile at the back, but Giroud is the real deal: What Hodgson will have learned from France 3-2 Iceland


GOOOALL!! Well, there were shocks yesterday, and Iceland have followed the smaller nations. Birkir Bjarnason with a fantastic half-volley to power past Steve Mandanda. Evra was asleep there. Poor defending from the Man Utd man.

Gylfi Sigurdsson drifted around midfield as he pleased with no holding player to smother him, picking pockets of space and displaying the flawless technique that saw him take the Premier League by storm with Swansea City.
Patrice Evra at left-back was no better. Looking to break forward and help in attack, the Manchester United skipper was regularly caught too high up the pitch, and seemed to lack the pace or, worryingly, the commitment to track back when he was required to face his own goal. Indeed, Evra could only watch as Bjarnason trotted away from him before lashing in the game's opening goal.
With pace in England's front line, the static and clumsy French defence will be tested. Ashley Young has the speed, assured dribbling and finishing accuracy to punish Mexes and Rami if they fail to align themselves properly come June 11.
Andy Carroll is another who can benefit from this uncertainty at the back. The Liverpool forward's tendency to bully defenders out of a game may work well against the AC Milan player, who was regularly outmuscled by Iceland No. 9 Sigthorsson.
Blanc's side had problems in attack too. Playing against a team lined up in a similar formation to that of England's in Oslo, France struggled to break down their opponents when deep inside their half, with creators-in-chief Samir Nasri and Yoann Gourcuff looking bereft of ideas.
Passes for Karim Benzema to run onto were the order of the day, but a combination of poorly-weighted attempts, misjudged timing and several incorrect offside decisions against the former Lyon man conspired to let the French down when looking to construct attacking moves.
Where Les Bleus did look dangerous was on the counterattack. England looked vulnerable to breaks-away while being demolished by Germany at World Cup 2010 and, with the likes of Jeremy Menez, Hatem Ben Arfa and Franck Ribery in their ranks, France pose a similar threat.
With Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole, Hodgson has pace at his disposal in defence, but getting bodies back from midfield will be crucial if the Three Lions are to nip lightning-quick breaks in the bud and shut down France's most potent source of chance-creation.


Fragile at the back, but Giroud is the real deal: What Hodgson will have learned from France 3-2 Iceland


Given 30 minutes as he replaced the dangerous Ben Arfa. Played superbly, setting up two goals and giving Laurent Blanc a selection problem in attack.

While Les Bleus often struggled as a unit, several individuals stood out to give Hodgson and his staff something to think about.
Mathieu Debuchy at right-back was arguably the best player on the pitch, surging forward at every opportunity, and showing an ability to put a mean cross in the box, before popping up to score himself early in the second period to kick-start the French revival. 
Cole may have his hands full if overloaded, but Stewart Downing's willingness to track back could turn the winger's much-derided call-up to a masterstroke, if the Lille man's endless runs and threatening crosses can be nullified.
Benzema prowled the front line, linking play well and briefly showing his lethal finishing ability, finding the net sumptuously from the edge of the area, only to see his effort disallowed for offside. The Real Madrid man was outshone, however, by a striker of far humbler origins.
Olivier Giroud has exploded into the forefront of French minds this season, firing unfashionable Montpellier to the Ligue 1 title, and the strapping striker showed a glimpse of his talent against Lars Lagerback's men.
Introduced for the final 30 minutes and combining with Ribery, brought on with 15 minutes remaining, Giroud first teed up the Bayern Munich man with an inch-perfect lobbed pass before flicking a header right onto Rami's explosive right foot to turn the game on its head.
With England's first-choice central defensive partnership possibly only known to Hodgson himself, those who do start may be hoping that Giroud is left on the bench in Donetsk. A pairing of the Montpellier man's intelligent hold-up play and Benzema's perfectly-timed runs between centre-back and full-back may see England begin their Euro 2012 with a struggle.
The Three Lions kicked off their last European Championship finals campaign with defeat to a Zinedine Zidane-inspired Les Bleus, but, with no mercurial genius to thwart them this time, Hodgson may just fancy his chances of opening Euro 2012 with a bang.

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