Russia break English hearts with last-gasp goal in Marseille
England 1 Russia 1
Published 11/06/2016 | 22:26
England's failure to learn from previous mistakes allowed Russia to net a stoppage-time leveller, with a lack of cutting edge preventing Roy Hodgson's side starting Euro 2016 with the win their exceptional play deserved.
Sickening scenes marred the build-up to the Group B clash, with bottles, chairs and fists thrown during three days of trouble involving a mixture of English, Russian and French fans in Marseille.
There were more clashes at the end of the match at the Stade Velodrome, where a thumping Eric Dier free-kick cancelled out by Vasili Berezutsky as Russia secured a fortuitous 1-1 draw.
At 25 years and 293 days, this was England's second-youngest line-up ever at a major finals and they showed no little exuberance, attacking from the outset.
The opening period brought nine shots but no goals, leading nervousness to grow as Leonid Slutsky's side grew into the encounter, with Joe Hart sparing Dier a second own goal in three matches.
Shortly after Wayne Rooney saw a strike brilliantly tipped onto the bar, the Tottenham defensive midfielder fired home a fine free-kick - but England would pay for lacking the ruthlessness discussed in the build-up.
Berzutsky's header sent the Russian fans wild, although that excitement soon turned into more clashes that UEFA are likely to act on.
The atmosphere had been much more positive earlier, where England's start was as bold as their line-up suggested.
They were quickly trying to get behind Russian cumbersome backline and pressing hard, with Dele Alli hitting a snapshot wide from a third-minute Adam Lallana cutback.
The Liverpool attacking midfielder was justifying his inclusion and stung Igor Akinfeev's palms after fine work by marauding right-back Kyle Walker.
England kept the pressure up and unmarked Alli's smart flicked header from Danny Rose's cross just evaded the stretching Harry Kane at the far post, before Chris Smalling headed straight at the Russian goalkeeper.
Hodgson's side were completely dominant aside from Sergei Ignashevich's 17th-minute header, but the majority of action was at the other end as Rose collected an intelligent Raheem Sterling backheel and driving a ball that almost found Alli from close-range.
Lallana was the focal point of an exceptional team move that lead to the Three Lions' next chance, only for the 28-year-old to snatch at his shot after receiving Alli's cutback.
Kane was clearly offside when finally finding the net shortly after Igor Smolnikov thwarted Sterling, while Alli was just unable to get a telling touch after an exquisite Rooney pass split Russia's centre-backs.
England's talisman forced Akinfeev to punch after some wonderful footwork down the right by the inspired Tottenham midfielder, but that dominance did not see them into half-time with a deserved lead.
It led to some nervy moments when play resumed, with Aleksandr Kokorin's ball across goal forcing Smalling to intervene before Artem Dzyuba could threaten Joe Hart's goal.
Nobody was able to steer in Kane's powerful, low free-kick, then Rooney curled over from the edge of the box as England showed signs of life - but Russia were looking far more lively than they had.
There was a worrying moment when Oleg Shatov's corner found the head of the unsighted Dier, directing back towards his own goal and forcing Hart to prevent him scoring a second own goal in three matches.
Moments after Gary Cahill was booked for a foul on Dzyuba, the towering striker's presence proved problematic and allowed Fedor Smolov to sweep a curling right-footed strike just wide.
The shape that so impressed in the first half was getting looser as the match entered the final 20 minutes, but England nearly took the lead as Rooney hit a goalbound striker that Akinfeev did superbly to tip onto the crossbar, with Lallana hitting the post - unaware the offside flag had been raised.
Frustration quickly turned into joy thanks to a thunderous strike by Dier. Alli drew the foul out of Georgi Schennikov outside the box, with Tottenham team-mate powering the resulting free-kick across Akinfeev to send the raucous England fans wild.
Substitute Jack Wilshere brought replaced Rooney soon after and played a neat one-two with Kane before playing in Sterling to net again, although the offside flag had long been raised.
England's inability to eke out a second led to a stoppage-time suck punch as captain Berezutsky's header flew past Hart, although Denis Glushakov made sure at the back post.
TWEET OF THE MATCH:
"Sterling has been dire but Dier has been sterling." - Dom Anderson (@DomAnderson_1)
JOE HART: 7/10
KYLE WALKER: 8
DANNY ROSE: 8
GARY CAHILL: 7
CHRIS SMALLING: 7
ERIC DIER: 8
DELE ALLI: 8
WAYNE ROONEY: 8
RAHEEM STERLING: 6
ADAM LALLANA: 8
HARRY KANE: 7
JACK WILSHERE (Rooney, 77): 6
JAMES MILNER (Sterling, 87): 6
STAR MAN: Wayne Rooney. After 112 caps playing as a striker or number 10, England's captain was asked to drop back into midfield to make way for younger legs in attack. He responded with an impressive lack of ego, showing positional discipline and passing with variety and precision.
He will be kicking himself that the win was thrown away after he was taken off.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Where else to start but with Eric Dier's punishing free-kick? England were beginning to fray and lose some of their early energy until he stepped over a ball that looked a fraction to close to get up and over.
But Dier picked his trajectory brilliantly, apparently settling English nerves until their late concession.
MOAN OF THE MATCH: The stubborn persistence with Harry Kane taking England's corners and wide free-kicks is beginning to grate. His delivery is not good enough to warrant his continued absence in the box, where he does his best work. If England cannot coach another of their starting XI to strike a dead ball effectively something is wrong.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT: Questions must be asked about Hodgson going into such an important match with a starting XI he has never used before, but his hunch was well served for 45 minutes.
The temptation to go to his bench early was resisted and he was rewarded with the winning goal.
He attempted to shore things up by introducing Jack Wilshere and James Milner and cannot beat too much blame for the stoppage-time equaliser.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
England v Wales, UEFA Euro 2016 (Thursday, May 16)
Russia v Slovakia, UEFA Euro 2016 (Wednesday, May 15)