The attacking midfielder scored France’s goal in Monday’s 1-1 draw against England. The strike put France back in control of the game, and reduced the chance of England pulling off a shock to open Group D of the 2012 UEFA European Champinship.
By scoring and winning “man of the match” honors, Nasri crushed the hopes of three players who are teammates at club level but opponents at Euro 2012. Joleon Lescott, James Milner and goalkeeper Joe Hart play alongside Nasri at Manchester City. But this is international soccer, and friendships fall by the wayside during major tournaments.
No way was Nasri going to let England snatch a victory, as he would hear about it for at least the next week … and potentially until the end of time. He played with a cutting edge from the start, floating inside from his position on the left side of France’s attack to exploit openings in the England defense. He nearly scored in the 11th minute, driving a low shot just wide of Hart’s goal, and it was clear he came into the game with a purpose.
England sat deep in defense and largely absorbed France’s pressure. It then took an unexpected lead in the 30th minute when Lescott headed home Steve Gerrard‘s free kick. The England defender converted one of two geniune scoring chances the Three Lions created in the half (Milner wasted the other one 15 minutes prior), and the upset watch was on.
Nasri assumed responsibility for bringing his shell-shocked teammates back into the game. In the 39th minute, he took a pass from Franck Ribery near the top of the England penalty area. He drove a shot past Hart that beat the normally outstanding goalkeeper at the near post.
The 24-year-old could barely contain his joy as he raced past his now adoring teammates, put one finger to his lips and told the critical French press to shut their mouths. Hart had seen Nasri in that situation plenty of times, and he knew the Frenchman would normally pass to a teammate or try and curl a shot into the far corner. But Nasri deviated and aimed his hard shot at the inside of the near post. After the contest, Sky Sports reports Nasri described the game within the game that lead to the famous goal.
“Ribery gave me the ball back and the England defence was really low (sitting back). Joe Hart knows I open my body up so I did the opposite,” he said.
France has looked to Nasri as one of its stars of the future for the last four years. He was part of the squad that didn’t make it out of the group stage at Euro 2008, but barely played in that tournament. By then, he had earned both a big-money move to Arsenal and reputation for being “difficult” (young and arrogant). This was part of the reason for his omission from France’s squad at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
After the draw with England, France manager Laurent Blanc said that Nasri is a player who must be handled with care. The attacking wizard can be a difference maker when he feels the support of his manager, according to FIFA.com.
“Samir has always been there with the other talented players,” Blanc said. “But you need to be a little bit more patient with them than other players. Because if they share your opinion or your philosophy they’re going to give you the right response on the pitch and he did that this evening.”
It’s somewhat ironic that French soccer now depends on Nasri. His reputation for being a troublemaker kept him out of the 2010 World Cup. France’s tournament ended in disgrace, as the veteran group revolted against the manager and refused to practice. Blanc, the man they call “Le President,” is tasked with restoring French pride, and he’s put his faith in a player who is perhaps misunderstood. Or maybe he was bluffing all along, as Hart discovered on Monday.