Euro 2016: England should be disappointed, but not downcast
Consigned to the background in the wake of clashes between groups of fans, as well as their inability to get the win, England's footballers would have been in a sombre mood following their opening game of Euro 2016. Some of them lay dejected on the field, shocked at the late sting in the tale that saw Russia nick a draw courtesy Vasili Berezutski's looping header.
Staying true to history, England once again failed to win their first group game at the Euros, leading the worry lines to once again crease the heads of English fans, almost silently muttering under their breaths, "Here we go again!", foreseeing another doomed showing. The English media and many observers have also been quick to pick up on this trail, keen on pointing out how and where Roy Hodgson's team let their advantage slip.
Yet setting aside the obvious disappointment from seeing three points turned to one, there was much to like about England's showing Saturday night in Marseille.
England's young core acquitted themselves pretty well. Yes, there was nervous energy and anxiety evident in them, but it was to be expected as the jump from qualifiers to the main tournament is a big one. Dele Alli once again looked bright, stringing moves together in the number 10 role, and the two full-backs, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, offered good width and support.
For once, England did not serve up any dour football that some of their previous teams have done. Being more clinical with their chances is something they'll have to learn, having witnessed the consequences of not capitalising when in the ascendancy. Goalscorer Eric Dier was mighty impressive too with his screening of the defence and tackling.
Liverpool's Adam Lallana had a fine showing on the right of England's forward line, justifying his selection ahead of Jamie Vardy. Lallana combined well with Alli, Wayne Rooney & Walker to provide some of England's most incisive attacks. As impressive as Lallana was though, Sterling on the other flank was a bit of a letdown.
Looking shorn of confidence and often indecisive, the Manchester City man made a mess of a few good opportunities that came his way. His crossing was below par and his constant battle between choosing whether to cross or dribble further in meant he fumbled on a few occasions. After Dier's goal, England had a very good chance to seal the game off with a quick break where the ball found its way to Sterling on the left. He galloped away using his pace, yet delayed playing the ball to his onrushing teammates so much that it gave the covering defender time to get back and deal with the danger.
That was pretty much the story of the game; for all the good ball movement and attacking promise, their failure to kill off chances that cost them.
Rooney's withdrawal not the reason
Much has been written about how Hodgson's decision to take off man-of-the-match Rooney with about 10 minutes to go led to the Russian comeback, but it really didn't. Russia had put in a lion-hearted defensive effort, but had offered nothing threatening in the attacking third. England were able to control the play quite easily at that. It was quite simply a question of their defence switching off before the final whistle was blown.
And therein lays perhaps England's greatest reason for worry. Chris Smalling, while vastly improved, is yet not a commander capable of marshalling a defensive unit while Gary Cahill is prone to rash decisions. Joe Hart is an over rated keeper, whose enthusiasm gets in his way at times. And those three were directly responsible for the equaliser where Russia's towering captain found himself matched against the much smaller Rose.
Central defence is a bit of a doubt, but even some of the best teams in this tournament – France, Germany and Spain – are equally suspect. That is why if England can just look at the positives from the game and maximise the opportunities that come their way, they'll progress far.
England need to make the chances count and score goals to take the pressure off this defence.
Pressure and inexperience seemed to be bigger offenders in Marseille than any substitution. This England team is well equipped to hang with the best of the teams here. The question remains if they can handle the occasion and the pressure, a failing that has come to haunt them seemingly forever.
From their opening showing there is much to be pleased about, knowing they have the talent. The overall performance suggested as much. This young team is now on a steep learning curve and how well they learn from their minor missteps while continuing to believe in themselves will determine their future in France.