England 1-1 Russia
England were cruelly robbed in the final minute of stoppage-time by Russia in their opening match of Euro 2016. The Three Lions were on top for the entire match but struggled to be ruthless and clinical with their chances. A spectacular Eric Dier free-kick was cancelled out by captain Vasili Berezutski’s towering header. Roy Hodgson’s men face Wales in Lens on Thursday.
Gary Cahill, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling all started in a four-three-three formation for England, who played Wayne Rooney in midfield for the first time in his international career. Fringe players Roman Neustädter, Georgi Schennikov and youngster Aleksandr Golovin all started for Russia, hampered by a few major absentees through injury. Roy Hodgson is Euro 2016’s oldest manager; Russia’s Leonid Slutskiy is the youngest.
England, like against France and Italy and Roy Hodgson’s two other tournament openers, started on the front foot. Wayne Rooney played a brilliant pass out wide to Kyle Walker. The Tottenham Hotspur full-back cut inside and found Liverpool’s Lallana unmarked in the box. He fired hard on the volley, but keeper Igor Akinfeev parried over the bar. Record cap holder Sergei Ignashevich had the next chance; the thirty five year old headed firmly into Joe Hart’s hands from a Russian free-kick on the right-wing. Soon after, After Dele Alli mesmerizingly beat four Russian defenders in a tight area, he crossed for Rooney. The skipper produced an almost carbon-copy of Adam Lallana’s early strike, volleying straight at Akinfeev, from just a tad further out. The goalkeeper punched convincingly away. All England fans far and wide would have groaned at the half-time scoreline – England dominant, but not ahead.
Early in the second half, Russia had their best period. During this time though, they created just one chance. This came from a corner. Oleg Shatov’s delivery was not efficiently dealt with by England, who almost conceded. Eric Dier, scorer of England’s winner in Berlin and then the own goal against Australia, headed back towards his goalkeeper. Joe Hart just about tipped the ball over the bar. England regained their control from hereon in. Raheem Sterling, whose often-criticised lack of an end product was frustratingly evident throughout the match, fed flying full-back Danny Rose on the left wing. His mean, low cross was smashed towards goal in similar fashion by Rooney. Akinfeev dived to his right and amazingly flung the ball onto his crossbar with what was a ridiculous stop. Adam Lallana and Harry Kane both swung at it, but were both off-side, but England were edging ever closer. Then came yet another England chance. With Kane still on free-kicks and corners, an exception was made as young Dier stepped up to hit a free-kick – well placed just inside the D. In came the D – Eric Dier that is – to smash the ball beautifully over the decoy England wall and into the roof of the net. Akinfeev came close to making contact, but would never have saved it. Roy Hodgson and his men had their breakthrough – on seventy-three minutes. England brought on Jack Wilshere and James Milner to hold on to the win. The Three Lions duo replaced Rooney and Sterling. The former had run the game, the latter hadn’t. England attempted to pass slowly and chances were at a distinct premium until around the eighty-fifth minute, when Russia upped the ante. With two of the three stoppage time minutes gone, and after a lot of wasted Russian corners, Shatov found Schennikov on the left wing. The left-back whipped the ball in, and Danny Rose, the shortest England player came up against Slutskiy’s captain – centre-back Vasili Berezutski. The defender leapt majestically and looped a header on goal. Joe Hart and his defence watched in amazement as the header flew in, and a Denis Glushakov smashed the ball over the line. Berezutski’s header had crossed the line before Glushakov intervened, but it did not matter. Both wheeled away in celebration. England were left staring at the floor. Another lead lost. Another needless goal conceded. Late, late drama in Marseille. It ended almost immediately after the Russian celebrations – England 1-1 Russia.
At this point news came in that 150 Russian fans had chased England fans out of the stadium in celebration of their last-minute goal. UEFA will review the situation and act on the incident by Tuesday. Gareth Bale inspired Wales to victory over Slovakia earlier, so the pressure is on for Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions ahead of their British derby in Lens.