Saturday saw the second day of the European Championship kicked off by Albania and Switzerland with the Swiss taking the win through Fabian Schär’s header after a mistake from Albania’s goalkeeper, Berisha. The Albanians, despite being a man down for much of the game- their captain Cana was sent off in the 37th minute- created some chances but were unable to convert them not for a lack of trying but as a result of some spectacular goaltending by Yann Sommer.
The second match of the day saw the Welsh defeat Slovakia 2-1. Real Madrid’s $100 Million man got the game going with a delightful free kick from 30 yards out. Shortly before the half, Slovakia had a huge chance to equalise through Skrtel but it wasn’t to be and Wales went in at the half up a goal. The Slovakians would eventually equalise in the 61st minute through Duda mere minutes after coming on. Wales, however, were not to be denied, creating a myriad of chances before the substitute Robson-Kanu eventually buried the winning goal in the 81st minute. The Welsh held on for a historic victory, securing their first ever win in a major tournament.
What happened in the “Crunch Match” of the evening?
The lead up to the England-Russia match was of course tainted with both fans clashing in the streets of Marseille. That, however, had no effect on the game. England started the game wonderfully, dominating the first half but were unable to break the deadlock. Russia turned in a rather apathetic performance and should have at least been a goal down at the half but dominance counts for nothing if you can’t finish your chances.
At the start of the second the Russians were more active while the English not as dominant as they were in the first. It took us until the 73rd minute to see the first goal of the game after Alli was fouled just outside the box. Dier stepped up and smashed a dazzling free kick into the corner of the net, giving Akinfeev no chance to save. The English failed to secure their lead and paid for their lack of incisiveness in the second minute of stoppage time when Berezutski’s towering header levelled the score, thereby breaking the hearts of English fans everywhere.
The English can take pride in somethings. The partnership between Walker and Lallana on the right was delightful and caused the Russians all sorts of trouble on the night. Hodgson may need to rethink Sterling as a starter, as he looked out of ideas and downright lax. Danny Rose on the other hand had a stand out game with the exception of his part in that late goal by Russia. He was lively down the left, creating chances with some nice crosses into the box. Dier’s amazing free kick won them a point and his partnership in the middle with Alli looked tremendous and almost impenetrable.
Fans should however, be disappointed with Hodgson for not bringing Vardy on at some point in the match. He could have provided some much needed pace in attack later in the game as the Russians began to tire. It was also disheartening to see Kane take the corners all night- the majority terrible- as the team would have been better served with him in the box attacking those corners. Rooney showed some flashes of brilliance and probably shouldn’t have been replaced in the 78th minute by Wilshere. The Arsenal man’s introduction changed nothing and the decision to bring him along after only coming back from a long injury spell in April is still baffling.
The “golden generation” carried on the old tradition of not winning their opening game of the European tournament but this performance wasn’t all bad and they can learn from this. However, conceding a goal of the nature they did so late on shows that defensively the English may not be strong enough and attacking wise they made some poor choices and were lacking bite, which could cost them in this tournament.
It should be an interesting game against group leaders Wales on June 16th. If the Welsh can put in an even better performance than against Slovakia, there’s no doubt they’ll defeat the English and qualify for the next round of the tournament. The English will have to play a perfect game to bounce back and earn their first three points of the tournament.