Roy Hodgson’s England began their EURO 2016 campaign last night with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Russia in Marseille.
England played with real passion and verve throughout and arguably put in their best performance under the former Fulham boss, but were held to a draw thanks to Vasili Berezutski’s 92nd minute header. Sadly, though, the game will be largely remembered for the ugly, violent scenes between the Russian and English fans both before and after the game which were disgusting and abhorrent. More needs to be done to stop those levels of hooliganism from both sides and make football safer for everyone.
Hodgson’s diamond formation in the friendlies did not really work and he reverted to his traditional 4-3-3, with Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana replacing Jamie Vardy and James Milner in the team. Russia meanwhile made one enforced change, with the injured Igor Denisov replaced by recently naturalised Roman Neustadter.
In the first half Russia were poor but that is not to take anything away from England, who would have had a healthy lead if they had been clinical in front of goal. Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana both went close but their efforts were too close to Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev. Russia did show that they could be a threat from set-pieces with Sergei Ignashevich’s header but that was too close to Joe Hart.
In the second half Russia showed a little more energy and Fyodor Smolov went close from distance but it was England who came closest through a Wayne Rooney effort that Akinfeev tipped onto the bar after 70 minutes.
Throughout the game Russia were very physical and it was that the ended up with them conceding after 73 minutes. A free-kick conceded on the edge of the area was beautifully struck by Eric Dier for his second international goal.
England closed out the game reasonably well but in the last 5 minutes the Russians tried to nab something that they did not really deserve for their performance and it resulted in Berezutski staying up from a corner and outjumping Danny Rose to fire in a header.
Soon after the final whistle blew and England were left disappointed with the final result but they must take heart from their performance. It was arguably the best they have looked under Hodgson and created a lot of chances. Hopefully from this game they will learn that in big tournaments you cannot afford to be as profligate as they were yesterday as they will get punished by better teams than the one they played last night.
Wales’ win earlier in the day means that is they that the top the group ahead of their meeting with England in Lens on Thursday, whilst Russia play Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday.
I think Hodgson got the starting lineup just about right for that game but I would like to see Jamie Vardy start wide instead of Adam Lallana, who has never convinced me in an England shirt. Also, I hope that he will be a little less conservative in his substitutions in the game against Wales, as that conservatism perhaps prevented England from getting the second goal that would have killed off the game last night.
England can take heart from their performance but they must develop that killer instinct sooner rather than later as it could see them sent packing sooner than they would hope.