Saturday’s match day for the 2016 European Championships featured perhaps the most highly anticipated match of the opening day, England versus Russia. Russia was coming into the tournament with a decent chance of advancing into the next round, but they were not the reason that people were so excited for this match- that reason was because of England. A young squad with loads of promise and potential, they looked on paper to possibly be the renaissance of the Three Lions’ Golden Generation of old, but could they live up to the hype?
The game started brightly for the Tottenham heavy British side, which featured five players from the North London side, and the message was clear from the beginning: GO! The English players flew up and down the field, looking to go forward as soon as they got the ball, and flying into tackled when they didn’t. It was Rooney pulling the strings in the midfield, consistently switching the field of play, which in turn led to a few decent chances. Alli and Rose both sent in quality crosses that just missed the forwards, and Lallana ran rampant both on and off the ball, seeing a half volley parried over the bar by the Akinfeev, the Russian goalkeeper.
The half ended deadlocked at zero, but the English looked confident and were playing well. It seemed to only be a matter of time before they unlocked the Russian defense.
The second half started with Russia on the front foot, engineering a couple half chances, but eventually it settled back down as England regained possession and controlled the tempo of the game. They could not seem to breakdown the Russian defense, however, and fans were left wondering whether they would be able to manage a goal, something that really should not be a problem with the attacking prowess they possess, and when/if the gaffer would bring on that man Jamie Vardy.
An unbelievable chance came in the 71st minute, as Joe Hart sprung an England counterattack, which saw a Rooney half volley saved by Akinfeev. The ball then fell kindly to Raheem Sterling, but the spritely winger dragged his chance horribly wide from only a few yards out. The English squad were left scratching their heads, but their moment would come just a couple minutes later. Alli cleverly megged a defender on top of the area, and was then brought down, resulting in a free kick about 20 yards out from goal. Kane stepped over the ball, and Dier side-footed it home. 1-0 to England, although the keeper should have done much better with the centrally struck shot.
From there it looked to be the same old England, as instead of pushing for another goal to put the game to bed, Roy Hodgson made negative subs and just looked to see out the game, tactics that would come back to haunt them. The referee signaled for three added minutes at the end of the 90, but Russia would only need two. The Russians were on the brink, aimlessly lofting balls into the box, when one such long ball was played back across, where it was met by Berezutskiy with a towering headed that looped over a helpless Hart and into the back of the net! Certainly not in the script, but it could be crucial for the Russian side later on, as they managed to get a point out of a game where they were clearly outplayed.
All in all, England put on a decent show, but it was the same old story in the end: negative football that would prove costly. With the game resulting in a draw, Wales stands alone atop group B who would have seen that coming! What a Euro this may turn out to be.