England’s opening Euro 2012 clash may be ‘brutal and ugly to watch’ but Mark Hateley thinks that could be the perfect approach to beat the French.
Roy Hodgson’s side go into today’s group D encounter in Donetsk as underdogs against opponents who are unbeaten in 21 matches.
And, with key players missing through injury, controversy over Rio Ferdinand’s omission, and only two warm-up matches under the new boss, the chances of an England triumph don’t look good.
However, former Pompey and England striker Hateley believes Hodgson’s organised and patient approach could be the ideal recipe for a Three Lions squad lacking in flair.
‘There seems to be a real stubbornness about England’s play now,’ said Hateley, who scored 25 goals in 44 outings for Pompey before a £1m transfer to AC Milan.
‘And when you look at what they’ve got at their disposal – call it boring or parking the bus or whatever – it’s about playing to their strengths.
‘The lack of creativity in midfield will probably dictate that they defend in numbers and hit teams on the break.
‘England will be difficult to beat, as Norway and Belgium have already found out.
‘There have been two 1-0 wins under Roy and two similar types of displays based around staying organised and patient.
‘With a bit of luck, that kind of organisation and understanding could see England go a long way.
‘An organised team can do great things – it may not be great to watch, but it can get you to finals.
‘It could be a brutal and ugly watch.
‘But the fans will be ecstatic if England can just get through to the knock-out stages because it is such a tough group.’
Hateley made his full England debut and notched his first international goal in June 1984, while still a Pompey player.
That match against Brazil at the Maracana Stadium is best remembered for John Barnes’ stunning solo effort for the visitors as England recorded a 2-0 win.
And Hateley, who played in the French league for Monaco, expects more of that kind of flair from Laurent Blanc’s side.
‘The French have got exactly the flair that England are currently missing, with the likes of Nasri, Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Ribery and Benzema,’ he said.
‘We know what they’re all about and the ability of most of these players won’t come as too much of a surprise.
‘But can France defend? That’s the question mark hanging over them.
‘I don’t think they’re too solid defensively.
‘If you go with Theo Walcott on the right and Ashley Young on the left, with Danny Welbeck through the middle, you have a lot of pace there to hit them on the break.
‘And with Scott Parker protecting the back four, Steven Gerrard can have the freedom to advance at will and support those attacks.
‘That looks the way forward to me.
‘As we saw with Chelsea in the Champions League, if you defend properly and in numbers and can hit on the break, then you can win things.’
Having tasted European Championship glory with England at under-21 level, Hateley went on to gain 32 caps and was part of the Three Lions squad for the 1986 World Cup and 1988 European Championships.
The 50-year-old believes it is crucial for Hodgson’s men to make a good start this time around – especially with group matches against bogey side Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine to follow.
He added: ‘Tournaments like this are always the pinnacle of your career as a player.
‘Obviously the Champions League is now massive there at a domestic level.
‘But, internationally, the Euros are right up there.
‘I went to the Euros in Germany in 1988 after the Mexico World Cup two years earlier, and it was great to be there.
‘Although, Germany was not a pleasant place for us that time as we lost all three of the group games – including the first one to Ireland.
‘It is imperative that something positive comes out of the first game because if you lose that, it becomes a real uphill battle from there on in.’