Shimmering in 34-degree heat, the Donbass Arena in Donetsk welcomes England and France for their Euro 2012 opener on Monday. And the temperature is set to turn up a notch – as England attempt to keep their cool against one of the tournament favourites.
Laurent Blanc’s men are unbeaten in 21 matches. But Roy Hodgson has played down the influence that will have on Monday’s game.
He said: “I think when you come European Championships or World Cups, I think – to some extent – having bad form or good form is necessarily the factor which is going to be decisive. It’s how your team is able to play on the night, how well people can adjust to the circumstances. I get the feeling we have full respect for the French team, which we should have, but I also get the feeling the players are confident in their own abilities. So let’s see what we can do.”
Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill all dropped out of the tournament through injury. But Hodgson doesn’t have any fresh concerns.
And after scoring his first international goal against Belgium, Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck is in line to start up front.
France’s World Cup campaign in 2010 was overshadowed by player unrest. But under Blanc, the Euro 2000 champions have become serious contenders for this year’s championships.
England will be hoping to avoid a repeat of their opening game at Euro 2004, when two late goals from Zinedine Zidane secured a 2-1 win for the French.