It is not unusual for fans to be left perplexed by an England result, particularly at a major tournament. Yet the Three Lions must still be wondering how they have not come away from their opening game at Euro 2016 with a comfortable three points.
England drew 1-1 with Russia in Marseille to continue their disappointing record of having never won their opening match at the European Championships. It is hard to believe they will get a much better chance.
England dominated proceedings at the Stade Velodrome, and took the lead through Eric Dier’s thunderous free kick with just under 20 minutes to play. However, they could not hold on to the lead as Vasili Berezutski’s stoppage time header leveled the scores and secured a valuable point for Leonid Slutsky’s side.
For England supporters, the performance and result drew uncomfortable comparisons with their 2014 World Cup campaign – lively and watchable going forward, but always susceptible defensively.
In fairness, England’s backline looked comfortable for most of the match but Russia look increasingly to be the weakest team in Group B. Thursday’s huge game against a Wales side full of confidence after their opening victory over Slovakia will be a tougher test, especially if Gareth Bale is on form.
But though there is reason for plenty of optimism as a result of England’s performance in attack, their front line also suffered much of the same problems it encountered in Brazil two years ago.
It also vindicated the comments made by Joe Hart in the build up to the match, who stated that England needed to be ruthless to succeed in the tournament. Though England looked fearless going forward, failure to capitalise on their dominance and to take their chances ultimately cost them the win. Again, it was a similar story two summers ago.
Harry Kane had a frustrating night by his own high standards. The first action Hodgson should take to help the 22-year-old is to take him off corners. Though England had a couple of chances from the Tottenham striker’s delivery, Hodgson’s decision to have Kane on corner-taking duties is a curious one and has been criticised by fans.
Kane is a natural goalscorer and will pose as an intimidating presence in any opposition’s area in any situation. Wayne Rooney would be the obvious choice to replace him, particularly now that he is playing in a deeper midfield role.
Rooney’s performance was another of the night’s positives. In his first match as England captain at a major tournament, he put in a very mature showing and helped create some good chances for the attackers with some pinpoint passes. He also helped out in defence when required.
Raheem Sterling had a disappointing night. Although the Manchester City man troubled the Russian defence at times, his delivery in the final third was poor overall. Should Hodgson decide on a change of tactics for the Wales game, Sterling’s place in the starting line-up looks likely to be under threat.
England do not require a huge shake up for the Wales tie. The opening fixture should be a wake-up call for England’s players that they must remain focused and that they must be clinical, just as Hart predicted before the tournament. Fans will be hoping they take this on board before it is too late.