Euro 2012: Hodgson hopes spirit will help England prevail
Laurent Blanc graced the starting XIs of Barcelona, Napoli, Marseille, Inter Milan and Manchester United.
Roy Hodgson's career was confined to Crystal Palace, Maidstone, Tonbridge Angels and Gravesend and Northfleet.
But football is not played on a curriculum vitae, as England's new manager will attempt to prove to the French in Donetsk this afternoon.
Heart, spirit, defiance are all in vogue. Superior artistry has failed in big games this year for Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Holland -- and England need it to bounce off a wall again in the heat of Ukraine as a France team unbeaten in 21 matches confront an England side who have endured Wayne Rooney's two-match suspension, broken ring fingers, fractured jaws and an endless brouhaha over the exclusion of Rio Ferdinand.
Mutinous in South Africa two years ago, France are potentially mighty now, with Blanc -- 'Le President' in his playing days -- seeking to add to his own World Cup and European Championship medals with a team who exemplify the difference between the two cultures.
France reach into the talent pool of Clairefontaine, their national academy, to replace the insurrectionists of 2010. England, on the other hand, endeavour to survive this tournament with dignity intact and then hope the new St George's Park can achieve the same spectacular yields as France's university in the woods.
Blanc scored a couple of points off Hodgson at the final media briefings, chiefly in relation to styles of play.
"I hope the side that plays more football will win the game, but it's not always the case that that happens in football," said the coach of Les Bleus (46) who replaced Raymond Domenech after the World Cup fiasco.
But in everyone's head here are Chelsea's Champions League victories over Barcelona and Bayern, and Denmark's win against the Dutch in Kharkiv.
Enforced English caution, a sign of weakness, could yet recast itself as strength. And Blanc knows it.
"I played in England for two years and I know the English players' mentality," he said. "I know what to expect in terms of spirit and strength in the tackles. They'll be like that tomorrow, maybe even more so."
France have won only eight of the 28 meetings since the first clash between the teams in Paris in 1923, but have run up a sequence of four wins and a draw since 1997.
England have not beaten them in four European Championship fixtures.
At Euro 2004, Sven-Goran Eriksson's team were 1-0 up but conceded twice in added time to Zinedine Zidane. Overseas clubs employ 11 of Blanc's squad while none of England's 23 work abroad.
At the tip of the blade, Karim Benzema scored 21 times in 34 appearances for Real Madrid this season. Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll, England's two senior strikers until Wayne Rooney returns, have two international goals between them.
Nine of the French squad have current or past experience of the Premier League; and in their last meeting, in November 2010, Blanc's men administered a lecture in ball retention to an England side that included Ben Foster, Rio Ferdinand, Kieran Gibbs and Jordan Henderson.
Yet the native strengths of the English game survive at a time when defensive strategies are no longer heresy.
Esprit de corps and negation have regained respectability on football's tactical spectrum. Besides, England will probably start in Donetsk with two recent Premier League winners, Joe Hart and James Milner, and also two Champions League victors in John Terry and Ashley Cole.
Teased by a French journalist about England's comic history of flops, Hodgson replied with measured indignation: "We started professional football in the 1860s or 1870s. You can't accuse us of not being a very serious footballing nation.
"We're all very much aware that we've not won anything since 1966. You didn't need to remind me of that.
"We have a chance, as one of the 16 teams here, to show how good a team we are. I can assure you we'll be doing our best to prove it on the field of play."
Before his first competitive game as England manager, in a career spanning eight countries, Hodgson also said: "We have a team full of players who are major stars in their own teams, one of the top leagues in Europe.
"I see them playing to the best of their ability at home. My hope is that they reproduce that form as a team in this tournament."
Since the chaos of Fabio Capello's resignation in February there has been little peace for England.
The Terry racism allegation and the shadow cast by Rio Ferdinand's continued omission (even after Gary Cahill fractured his jaw) have placed the Hodgson regime in a parlous position.
Failure to emerge from the group would not affect his own position but would deepen the anxiety about England's failure to produce talent to compare with that of France, who can whistle up Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa from Newcastle United.
When St George's Park opens in August -- in the English FA's 149th year -- the gulf might begin to narrow. But there is no long-term tonight -- only the heat and the surrounding slag heaps, where no one wants to end up. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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