England like to be ironic. With a great deal of pessimism the national side jetted off to France to begin a campaign that few had any faith would be a success. This mood was not helped by three laboured, uninspiring friendly wins against Turkey, Australia and Portugal.
Skip to the opening fixture against Russia last night. From early on England (in a 4-3-3 formation with Harry Kane operating as the lone striker and Rooney playing in a more central midfield role) were incisive and playing with a good tempo. The fluency of the passing and movement was a big improvement from the warm-up games, and for the first time in a long time England looked impressive.
Not only were we keeping the ball and using it to good effect, we were pressing the Russians when they had the ball, often winning it back in their half. Lallana had a great chance to put England into a first-half lead when a good bit of play put him into the box, but dragged his shot wide of the far post when it would have been easier to score. Other chances came and went (including a snappy shot from Rooney in the second-half that the keeper knocked onto the bar), until Eric Dier stepped up to take a free kick on the edge of the Russian penalty area.
The rocket of a shot was unstoppable, providing England with a lead their play deserved, some twenty minutes or so from time. Unfortunately the victory was not to be. In stoppage time, Berezutski got his head to Schennikov’s header and looped it over Hart’s head. The draw was one Russia did not deserve, but now England must pick themselves up and redouble their efforts ahead of what is now a crucial game against Wales on Thursday.
Where Roy went wrong
Bafflingly, Hodgson did not deploy Jamie Vardy at any stage during proceedings – on a night where England lined up against a pair of ageing centre backs, surely his pace would have added an extra dimension to England’s attack? Removing Rooney – who had actually played quite well in the centre of midfield – for Wilshere will go down as a mistake. Having Kane take corners is wasteful. Tweaks clearly need to be made, regardless of the positives.
Still, the performance was a lot better and may offer some hope.