Dominant England punished by Russia for wasteful finishing
The end of the Group B match, which finished 1-1, was marred by violence in the stands as supporters clashed after the final whistle
A youthful England side produced a performance full of verve and skill but were punished for failing to convert their dominance into goals as Russia grabbed a late equalizer in their Euro 2016 opener in Marseille on Saturday.
The end of the Group B match, which finished 1-1, was marred by violence in the stands as supporters clashed after the final whistle and, despite their superb performance, England will be left rueing their missed opportunities.
“I think we played well but we didn’t take our chances. The lads are disappointed not to get the win but we can take a lot of positives,” England captain Wayne Rooney said. “We looked solid for 90 minutes. The performance was worthy of the win.”
Unable to convert possession into goals, England were hit by a late sucker-punch that condemned them to yet another poor start at the European Championship -- in nine tournaments they have drawn five and lost four of their opening games.
Roy Hodgson’s side was the second-youngest to appear for England at a major tournament, only surpassed in terms of its youth by the team that faced Sweden at the 2002 World Cup.
In the beginning it did not show as England dominated most of the exchanges, producing chance after chance from open play and set pieces as they ran at the Russians.
Adam Lallana, Rooney and Harry Kane all had decent chances in the first half, but more often than not their efforts flew harmlessly wide or straight at the keeper.
With England attacking seemingly at will, centrally and down the flanks, balls were flashed into the box from all angles and it seemed a matter of time before the deadlock was broken.
When the breakthrough finally came it was from an unlikely source.
Tottenham Hotspur’s defensive midfielder Eric Dier has not attempted a single shot from a free-kick in his 65 Premier League games, but in the 73rd minute he stepped up and smashed an unstoppable strike past keeper Igor Akinfeev.
With Russia having spent much of the game defending, Dier’s goal looked like it would be enough to claim all three points, but it was not to be and Russia fashioned an equalizer with only their second effort on target in the whole game.
Defender Vasili Berezutski did not manage to find the net in any of his eight qualifying appearances, but his looping header at the death was enough to give his side a share of the points that they hardly deserved.
For almost the entire game Hodgson’s decision to go for youth over experience in his squad looked like it might be vindicated, but Berezutski’s goal cast a shadow over England’s fortunes.
“I thought we played well, in the first half I thought that was as good a performance as we are capable of giving,” Hodgson told reporters.
“It feels like defeat because we were preparing to celebrate a victory and we don’t have that possibility now.”
England next meet Wales, who beat Slovakia 2-1 in their opening fixture earlier on Saturday, in Lens on Thursday, while the Russians face Slovakia in Lille a day earlier.
Hodgson knows he must pick up his young squad after their late setback if they are to have any chance of progressing.
“When we analyze this game tomorrow there will be a lot of things we will want to take forward, and hopefully we’ll be able to put the memory of this last-minute goal behind us,” he said.