Paul Merson
Football Expert & Columnist

A job well done

England got it right, says Merse, but now bring in Walcott

Young: easily contained by Diarra, says Merson

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I think England fans should be pretty happy after the first game.

"Young didn't get into the game, he didn't find himself in pockets and he was easily picked up by Alou Diarra. Every time we broke, Diarra was on him straight away and that can't happen."

Paul Merson

Quotes of the week

Before the match, nobody was giving us a chance of winning, but we managed to get a draw - and a comfortable draw - out of France. Surely everybody would have settled for that?

We were never going to open the game up, but now I hear a load of people complaining that we need to attack more if we want to win the tournament! That's just typical of attitudes towards the England team, isn't it?

England played the way they needed to play on Monday night. We could not afford to lose that game and we have to play to our strengths until Wayne Rooney returns.

So it was a job well done. France had gone unbeaten in 21 games, including wins over England at Wembley and against both Germany and Brazil, but they never looked like beating us.

I must admit France weren't as good as I thought they'd be. When you consider the amount of ball they had, I thought they would cause England far more problems. Joe Hart didn't have to pull off any saves that you wouldn't expect him to make.

As I've said all along, England are as good as anybody defensively. If you want to shut up shop then our back five - and the midfielders in front of them - are excellent in that department.

If we can get out of the group then we can play like that the whole way through against the bigger sides. It ain't going to be pretty, but we'll be good at counter-attacking and making sure teams don't score against us.

The problem is that in the next two games against Sweden and the Ukraine, we've got to spin it around and go out and score some goals. Sweden will do to us what we did to France and the big worry is if we can take the game to them?

Credit

Against France, I thought the back five were excellent.

Joe Hart missed one cross completely, but I don't think you can blame him for the goal. It was one of those where Samir Nasri showed him the eyes and went to the near post. You can't blame the goalie for that one because it was a good finish.

I thought John Terry and Joleon Lescott were outstanding in central defence and Lescott deserves a lot of credit for scoring the goal.

I've been one of the people that has criticised Glen Johnson over the years. Going forward he's as good as anybody around, but defensively I've never thought he was great. However, he was very good against France and on the other side Ashley Cole showed why he's the best left-back in world football.

In central midfield Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker did what they had to do. We were never going to be flamboyant in this game and sitting there with two banks of four was the perfect approach.

I though Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did well. He brought a surprise factor to the side - not too many opponents will know him - and he showed that, for a young lad, he has unbelievable talent. I would definitely start him again against Sweden on Friday. If Stewart Downing plays we won't have major pace in the team, so I think we need him.

As for James Milner, he missed a major, major chance to put England 1-0 up, but to be fair to him he didn't hide. He's brave, he keeps getting on the ball and I like that about him, but I don't see what the lad does apart from putting in an unbelievable shift. In my opinion, the only thing he brings to the team is hard work.

In that game he was the right choice because he got back and helped the full-back. I would play him in the knock-out stages, but against Sweden I would rather see the pace of Theo Walcott on the right. That could be the one change Roy Hodgson makes on Friday.

Fault

Milner's chance came from a great bit of play by Ashley Young, but I still don't see him as a number 10. I'd rather see Young on the wings running at players and trying to beat them. It's not his fault, but I don't think he knows the number 10 position.

He didn't get into the game, he didn't find himself in pockets and he was easily picked up by Alou Diarra. Every time we broke, Diarra was on him straight away and that can't happen.

He needs to find ways to create more space for himself. He should have mixed it up and gone straight up front at times or dropped deeper to get the ball and change things.

However, we haven't really got any other options until Wayne Rooney comes back from suspension and then I'm sure Young will be flown straight out onto the wing, where he is very, very good.

Up front, Danny Welbeck didn't look like scoring in a month of Sundays, which is a bit of a worry. But he put in a shift for the team and did an unbelievable job for his team-mates. France always feared his pace.

He's done enough to play in the next game. He worked his socks off against a team that was better than us and now when we play Sweden he deserves the chance to show what he can do in front of goal.

He wasn't helped by a shocking display from the referee either. The French players were blocking and tripping our forwards, but he just wouldn't award a free-kick.

But overall it was a job well done. The only regret is that Rooney wasn't playing because if he'd been in the team I'm sure we would have won it. France didn't look good at the back and he would have had the guile to open them up.

But I saw enough in phases of the game to make me believe we will get out of this group now - and I still haven't seen a team in this tournament that frightens me.

MERSON'S MARK: B+

We went there and did the job. We were playing a team that's now 22 games unbeaten and they didn't look like scoring many goals. If I was Roy Hodgson I would be more than pleased with that result. People will say the performance was negative, but if we're going to win this tournament, that's how we'll win it, so the fans had better get used to it.