England denied by Russia’s last-gasp equaliser in Euro 2016 opener

There is not much more brutal in football than a last-minute goal and, for England, it was a numbing sense of disappointment at the final whistle. They have waited an awfully long time to win their opening match of a European Championship and the clock had ticked into its third minute of stoppage time when their chance to end that long run, stretching back to 1980, was wrenched from their grasp.

What followed was shocking in the extreme, with hundreds of Russian troublemakers storming the adjacent section of England fans, and Uefa will be under serious pressure to take action judging by the mix of violence and mass panic that ensued. It was a dismal way to end the night, with thousands of people fleeing in terror.

On the pitch there was a contrasting scene created by the two sets of players and their own reactions. For Russia, it was a mix of relief and joy. For England, there was raw disappointment and the unmistakable sense they had blown it.

Roy Hodgson argued there were still plenty of encouraging signs and he was right, to a degree, even if it can never be a good sign when a team are guilty of this form of carelessness. England had enough chances to make it a relatively stress-free victory but it was not until the 73rd minute that they went ahead, courtesy of Eric Dier’s free-kick, and it was a galling way to surrender that lead.

James Milner, one of England’s second-half substitutes, let Georgi Schennikov go past him far too easily to deliver the cross. The Russia captain, Vasili Berezutski, had managed to get in between Danny Rose and Dele Alli and his looping header was on its way into the far corner of Joe Hart’s net, almost in slow motion.

Hodgson, describing himself as “bitterly disappointed”, must now decide whether to stick to his new 4-1-2-3 formation for the game against Wales on Thursday, but there will also be some difficult questions for the England manager. Yet again it was hard to understand why Harry Kane now takes the team’s corners, but Wayne Rooney’s substitution was even more perplexing bearing in mind he had played with distinction in his new midfield role and, perhaps most importantly, had the kind of experience that was needed late on.

Jamie Vardy was not involved at all, despite having the speed to trouble an ageing Russian defence in the final exchanges, and the nature of the equaliser did nothing to disperse the theory that England’s defence is too vulnerable.

On a more positive note, Rooney justified his selection in midfield and, for the most part, England played with movement and fluidity. Hodgson had five players from Tottenham Hotspur in his starting lineup and Dele Alli’s early nutmeg on Roman Neustädter quickly showed the midfielder would not be fazed in any way by his first tournament experience.

With Kyle Walker and Rose surging forward from the full-back positions, there cannot be many other sides in the competition to play with a more adventurous shape.

What England lacked was the know-how to spare themselves the late ordeal when until that point they were the better side by some distance.


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