So near, so far: Young England unable to end Euros curse

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Roy Hodgson's side couldn't hold on to their 1-0 lead against Russia just as it looked like their opening game hoodoo was about to end


GOALCOMMENT

England’s young pretenders did a whole lot of pretending against their Russian counterparts.

Just when it looked as though Eric Dier's glorious 73rd minute free-kick would be enough to secure a first-ever win in the opening match of a European Championship for the Three Lions, Vasili Berezutski's looping header in the 92nd minute crushed a nation's briefly raised hopes.

Roy Hodgson’s men were cruelly exposed for showing a lack of composure, patience and mental strength against a defensively organised Russia side. Leonard Slutsky made sure his team were set up to play deep against England as expected and it worked throughout the first half - and most of the second.

It’s now nine opening games and zero wins for England at the Euros. Raheem Sterling came close in the first half despite the stop-start attacking play that frustrated fans.

England could have done with Jack Wilshere and Jamie Vardy substituted on sooner, with only the Arsenal man sent on for the final 12 minutes. There were times when England lacked a man to supply a pinpoint ball and another who could finish it off with aplomb.

The 50,000-strong England contingent in the Stade Velodrome got behind their team completely as Danny Rose and Kyle Walker made rampaging runs from full-back, spraying crosses into the box that Harry Kane was unable to get on the end of, while Adam Lallana also passed up several opportunities to break the deadlock.

How England’s blend of youth and experience would fare was always open to question, with Hodgson hinting beforehand that it may be detriment to the team. "I would like the players to show as much confidence in themselves as we, the coaching staff, have in them, and we know we have a lot of very talented footballers," he said.

"The one thing we don’t have is a lot of experience but often the energy and enthusiasm the young players will show will make up for that."

Indeed, Wayne Rooney was questioned by a Russian journalist before the game about his lack of form over the past few seasons.

The Manchester United striker - employed again in a deeper midfield role for his country - played like a man who had something to prove. His determination and desire is testament to why Hodgson continues to pick his captain.

The opening goal came with 73 minutes on the clock, and it was defensive midfielder Dier, of all players, who stepped up to score England's first ever free-kick in a European Championship.

 

The Tottenham man struck a sumptuous free-kick past the experienced Igor Akinfeev which sent the England fans into raptures and for a few minutes every Three Lions fan believed again.

But, deep in stoppage time, England's defensive frailties were exposed as Berezutski towered over Danny Rose to loop his header over a poorly positioned Joe Hart and into the net.

All the talk before the match focused on the despicable scenes in the Old Port of Marseille. Videos and photos of fans being kicked senseless and others being thrown in the nearby harbour made their way across social media. 

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A half-time rendition of ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ was an example of the initially jovial mood among supporters in the stadium. But, unfortunately, the mood pivoted at the full-time whistle.

With only a sheet of blue tarpaulin between them, Russia fans charged at their England counterparts - men, women and children alike - who fled for the exits in scenes which shame the game.

UEFA has already condemned the actions of the mindless hooligans who brought bloodshed to the streets of Marseille. They must now take action against those who brought fear and further violence to the stands of the Stade Velodrome.

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