England’s Euro 2016 campaign looked to be off to a flying start as they took the initiative with a barrage of attacks on their Russian opponents before Eric Dier fired home a free-kick on the 73rd-minute.
But as we’ve come to expect at big tournaments, the Three Lions failed to see the game out and ended up succumbing to a 1-1 draw when Vasili Berezutski looped a header to the back post and crushed England’s hopes of an opening game victory.
ENGLAND PLAYED WELL
England dominated the game, which in the last two major tournaments has been a rare sight.
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Every player looked pumped up for the game – Adam Lallana ran around like a man possessed, Wayne Rooney was pinging passes around like David Beckham and Steven Gerrard once did while Kyle Walker showcased his pace and roaming ability down the right flank.
Chris Smalling rose to every battle, Danny Rose put in some great tackles and Dele Alli dribbled his way through the Russian defence. It was a great all-round performance.
It looked for a long time like England wouldn’t break the deadlock but sheer persistence and pressure paid off. Everyone watching the game knew it was a matter of time.
However, for all of the great individual performances, a stunning free-kick and a nation’s belief that the young Lions could pull off an opening game victory, England still let their lead slip and conceded. Again!
We can talk up how great they played and how much the England squad can build on this game – of course, they can improve – but the harsh reality is they only gained a point from arguably the easiest opponents in the group.
And it’s all for one reason.
HODGSON LIKES TO ROTATE
The manager has had his critics. Gary Lineker - one of England’s greatest strikers - was one of the most brutal judges after the underwhelming 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil as the former Liverpool boss' tactics were exposed.
But, Hodgson bounced back with an impressive European Championships qualifying run - winning all ten of their games to top the group with a goal difference of 28.
Switzerland came second, nine points behind the Three Lions.
Yet, after apparently finding the winning formula, he is tinkering again.
In the last friendly before the Championships, England just managed to be a Ronaldo-less Portugal 1-0 despite them have 10-men. This appeared to be down to Hodgson’s tinkering, as Dele Alli was found to be playing in a slightly wider position and not in his more threatening advanced midfielder role.
Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane were also stretched out so they were almost anonymous figures in the game. Bruno Alves' wild challenge on Kane reminded us the England forward was playing – through no fault of his own.
Many were wondering how Hodgson was going to create a more believable Championship-challenging squad for France.
THE RUSSIA DRAW SAW MORE TINKERING
We saw a glimpse of what England can be if the tactics and players are given continuity and stability. Wayne Rooney thrived in his position, proving he is a key midfielder for England in this competition.
But Hodgson thought they would be better served to shut up shop after the goal and replaced the England captain and Raheem Sterling with Jack Wilshere and James Milner respectively.
This tact backfired and cost England a goal as the team suddenly looked disjointed and out of sync with playmaker Rooney missing.
A lesson learned you would hope!
What’s done is done, but this should be a warning to Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff that removing key elements of the squad when they are on top is only going to spell trouble.