England campaigns typically begin ingloriously - not helped by best player's absence
Defeat in England’s opener would provoke a media mauling so vicious that Roy Hodgson would be forced to query what appeal he imagined the impossible job might have had before taking it. It is a nightmare scenario, however, that he might wish to prepare for.
The Three Lions aren’t strong starters, even with a tabloid-generated breeze of confidence in their sails to inspire belief that the “46 years of hurt” – apparently a synonym for a spell spent largely bumping into things in tournament knockout rounds – are not about to be extended to a forty-seventh.
England have kicked off just two of their last 11 events with a victory – and none of their prior Euro entries – so amidst a mood of pessimism and against accomplished opponents like France, it is difficult to make a case for them winning.
For those who frown at calling France “accomplished opponents”, long gone are the mesmerisingly shambolic 2010 World Cup side who dashed back home with just a point to a public more disillusioned than England’s.
Raymond Domenech was finally axed, a process accelerated by the players no longer bothering to conceal their contempt for him in South Africa. In his place bravely stepped Laurent Blanc, who has shuffled the deck and found a squad capable of cobbling together a 19-match unbeaten run.
Their record against England is similarly fierce, losing none of the most recent five showdowns and triumphing in the last three.
Each of those successes carry some significance for this encounter. The first, in 2004, came in the opening round of fixtures at a European Championship. The second, in 2008, provided the earliest blemish on the record of a new England boss, Fabio Capello, back when the Italian was still fairly popular.
The third occurred during this international cycle, in November 2010, briefly into France’s current invincible streak, and therefore is the best indicator of how the teams are likely to fare. France then won 2-1 then with goals from Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena.
England’s task is made harder by Wayne Rooney’s suspension. They have won only two of their last six games without the Man United striker, one of which was that latest France clash. By contrast, his nine appearances since the World Cup produced seven wins and two draws.