There was nothing conventional about any of this, with Wayne Rooney in midfield, Harry Kane on corners, Eric Dier battering home that free-kick and then Russia, a team so ineffective up to some hopeful late punts, plundering their late equaliser.
1 Wait goes on to break duck in the first game of Euros
England have still not won their first game at a European Championship, with this a wasteful draw given how dominant they had been. In the context of late frustration all the promise of the brighter play, offered up by Adam Lallana to Kyle Walker to Danny Rose, will have felt spoiled. In the end this was actually a result for Wales to cherish from afar. Russia are an ageing outfit who must take on the Welsh last. Chris Coleman will be licking his lips at the prospect of his team confronting them in Toulouse. For England, this was a missed opportunity.
2 Perhaps Rooney in midfield was less of a gamble after all
England had qualified for Euro 2016 with three matches to spare, which initially made this feel an odd occasion upon which to unleash Rooney as a midfielder at this level. Yet, as he dictated his team’s performance just as he had Manchester United’s in last month’s FA Cup final, there was logic to the tactic. There was space to exploit off Roman Neustädter, who was technically German 12 days ago and looked out of his depth at times, with the England captain spraying passes, both short and long, at will as if offering up his very own impression of Paul Scholes. He even tracked back to intercept, particularly when Aleksandr Kokorin threatened to break, and his attacking instincts were never dulled as Igor Akinfeev could testify. There was no risk to be found here if he could see plenty of the ball. It was only when he was peripheral that England lost impetus.
3 But would it work against the Welsh?
Gareth Bale has already spoken of Welsh passion and pride as he eyes Thursday’s “derby” in Lens. That will be a frenzy at Stade Bollaert-Delelis and it seems inconceivable that Rooney will benefit from the same time and space as opponents snap at him. Perhaps that will be an occasion for Jordan Henderson or Jack Wilshere to re-enter the fray in an attempt to maintain authority in the centre in a slightly more cautious lineup. Those midfielders are hardly old-school tigerish, but either would offer a hint of snarl in a Premier League-like collision as Dier performs his calm shielding brief. Quite who makes way is open to question, but there is certainly scope for Hodgson to reshuffle. He was flexible in his selection here. He will surely have to be again.
4 Yet inexperience will always bring naivety
There were, of course, reminders this is a young and, essentially – Rooney and Joe Hart aside – inexperienced side long before Vasili Berezutski looped in his stoppage-time equaliser at the end. The defensive worries that have haunted this team for months had resurfaced when Sergei Ignashevich benefited from a free header, and better opponents than Russia might have made hay on the counter. Yet it was their own profligacy that undermined England most of all. This game should have long since been won. At times this was reminiscent of the World Cup fixture with Italy in Manaus two years ago in as much as, for long periods, England were bright, inventive but blunt and prone to overplay when it really mattered, not least with Harry Kane marginally off the pace. The Azzurri were streetwise and capitalised. Russia waited until late to steal their draw. England are going to have to learn fast.
5 The violence is unlikely to be the last we see in this tournament
In too many ways the football felt like an afterthought. The violence that had flared in Marseille’s Vieux Port, for a third day in succession, had tainted this occasion as England and Russian fans, as well as locals, clashed in the city centre. The logic in staging this potentially incendiary fixture at this venue was baffling given memories of 1998, but perhaps trouble would have erupted anywhere. Certainly, the thought of England playing in Lens this coming week just 24 hours after the Russians have featured in nearby Lille is troubling. Uefa issued a statement just before kick-off condemning the events and stressing “people engaging in such violent acts have no place in football”. They will surely investigate the ugly clashes in the stand behind Akinfeev’s goal after the final whistle, and have the power to punish associations for actions that take place inside a stadium. This was a troubling night.
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