Gameday 1 of the English involvement at the Euros saw them square off with Russia at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, France. A lot had been written (as usual) about the team’s chances and one would feel gutted (with a tinge of optimism, still) as an England fan as to how things have turned out tonight.
Roy Hodgson’s decision to go with a 4-3-3 leaving out Jamie Vardy did not really disappoint in terms of personnel on the field, but there were some very England-like errors during the game. Right after taking the lead, Roy took off Wayne Rooney. Now Wayne Rooney is the most polarizing English footballer there ever has been. In his new role at the center of the midfield, Rooney did not really disappoint, you know! He was conducting the play, pinging in some glorious passes into his much quick-footed forwards and getting the odd chance to go inside the opposition box himself.
And with Rooney, you’d always get that extra bit when the team needs some sorting out in its defense as well. Moments when you have a precarious 1-0 lead, you simply do not find the sense in substituting the second best performer of the day (after the England goal scorer, Eric Dier). And fatigue wasn’t really an issue from what it looked to the naked eye. Anyway, that happened. And England put in Jack Wilshere in his place. There was an expectation that with the game becoming more and more open, England would being in Jamie Vardy to apply the brake on the renewed optimism that Russia seemed to have obtained from nowhere (seriously, they were diabolical for most parts of the game!)
What followed however was one more defensive substitution that took the sting out of this English team going forward. In came James Milner for Raheem Sterling, and Vardy – the toast of the Premier League – was still on the bench. What then followed close to the end of play was 10 seconds of madness at the end of which Leonid Slutsky‘s Russia had got what they wanted out of the game – an equalizing goal and a crucial one point. Considering how the Welsh have fared against Slovakia and the other result in Gameday 2 for England’s group, we may still not be completely immune from an embarrassing exit by Wednesday. This shouldn’t have happened. This England team, although having started much better than in their previous major tournaments is still win-less from the opening game of a European Championship. For a team that are touted by the bookmakers to be the fourth favorites to triumph in France (although there’s an interesting side-track to that), today’s 1 point might not please their chances of ending a 50 year drought one bit (although, as most of the English fans would like to think by now, their team was meant to bottle this one too). Let’s just hope things get better against Bale & Co.
PS: A strong word of disappointment and anguish towards what happened inside the stadium post-match between the two sets of fans. While some of it is the fault of the English fans themselves (we are no saints either), questions really need to be asked about a few other aspects – France’s preparedness in terms of security, the Russian ultras (no need to say anything more!) and the World Cup of 2018 to be held in Russia. We surely don’t want to see incidents like these. And I hope everyone values their life over a game of football.