DONETSK (Reuters) - A moment of class from France’s Samir Nasri cancelled out England’s bright start to Euro 2012 as the two favourites in Group D settled for a share of the points in a 1-1 draw at the Donbass Arena on Monday.
While both teams were satisfied to have avoided a losing start in Group D, the encounter, which offered few thrills, provided little real clue about either team’s chances in the tournament.
Nasri responded to Joleon Lescott’s headed opener for England after half an hour with a sizzling strike just before the break and neither side was able to truly take the initiative in the second half.
England, playing their first competitive match under new manager Roy Hodgson, were clearly the more pleased with the result - judging by the reaction of their players at the whistle.
“I am pleased this is over, the players have shown they can cope with games at this level,” said Hodgson who has had just two friendly games in charge since the departure of Italian Fabio Capello.
His counterpart Laurent Blanc, who has restored some decorum as well as quality to the French team after the debacle at the World Cup two years ago, summed up the contest, which was played in humidity and heat, precisely.
“We were good enough to not lose the game but we weren’t good enough to win it,” he said.
Blanc was disappointed with the way his team started the game, giving England space to attack them and he might have been more upset had James Milner taken his chance after 15 minutes, when he was put through by Ashley Young.
But Milner, rounding Hugo Lloris, pushed himself too wide and the tight angle for the shot was too much for him.
England though got reward for their enterprising opening from a set-piece -- Steven Gerrard whipping in a cross from the right which Lescott met with a perfectly timed jump, escaping his marker Alou Diarra, and powering home the header.
What pleased Blanc though was the way the French responded to the goal.
Diarra went close to quickly making amends with a firm header from a pinpoint Nasri cross which was parried out by Joe Hart with the French defender failing to find the target with a second header.
The creative Nasri was enjoyed a surprising amount of space with England defending deep and no-one assigned to man-mark him and he was left free to drive in the equaliser six minutes before the break.
The Manchester City midfielder’s sweet shot from the edge of the area skidded past his club team mate Hart to bring the scores level.
“He knows me from City - he knows that I open my feet, so this time I closed them and luckily it went in,” said Nasri.
The closing of the half offered the prospect of an entertaining 45 minutes to follow but that proved to be a tease.
With the heat undoubtedly a factor, France’s attacks lost their urgency and zip and England, defending resolutely, were conservative when they had the ball.
All the chances were created by the French - Yohan Cabaye unleashing a fierce diagonal drive which Hart did well to push wide.
Franck Ribery forced another good response from Hart from a tight angle and near the end Karim Benzema made sure the England keeper was alert with a dangerous long range effort.
“It was very tough the last 15-20 mins, we had worked hard and players were tiring,” said Hodgson.
“I am sure Blanc will tell you that both teams were tired - I think they were also feeling the effects of the heat as well.”
Conditions aside, England will take encouragement from the way they stuck at their task after the setback of quickly losing their lead.
Blanc, who was quick to point out that England are the top-ranked team in the group, drew comfort from the way his team reacted to England going ahead.
”I think they were excellent for the first 20 mins, I think we took a while to get into the game and, as is often the way, we got punished.
“But ironically that helped us to get in the game - we reacted well. I think we deserved the equalizer.”
Reporting By Simon Evans, editing by Justin Palmer