Russia captain Vasili Berezutski scored an injury-time equaliser to deny England a deserved win in their Euro 2016 opener in Marseille.
Roy Hodgson’s side were dominant from start to finish at the Stade Velodrome, but were left to rue a combination of wasteful finishing and Russian resilience as Leonid Slutsky’s side somehow escaped with a 1-1 draw.
Eric Dier finally gave England the lead their performance merited with an unstoppable free-kick from just outside the area in the 73rd minute, but Russia kept themselves in the game and stole a point when Berezutski’s looping header at the back post beat Joe Hart two minutes into stoppage time.
The equaliser also ignited unsavoury scenes behind Hart’s goal, as fan clashes seen on the streets of Marseille in the days leading up to the game erupted inside the Velodrome.
Much of the pre-game talk was centred around Hodgson’s team selection, and the England boss plumped for a front three of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana, with captain Wayne Rooney deployed in a deeper role.
Hodgson was rewarded with a hugely impressive first-half display, particularly from his skipper, with Russia clinging on in the face of wave after wave of England pressure.
Understandably, England’s intensity dropped after the break, but it looked as if Dier’s intervention was going to be enough to earn all three points.
However, Russia had a response, leaving Wales sitting top of Group B heading into Thursday’s Home Nations clash in Lens after their win over Slovakia earlier in the day.
England began on the front foot and Lallana’s stinging half-volley, which came about after an enterprising run forward from Kyle Walker, forced Igor Akinfeev into a smart save seven minutes in.
Rooney was being afforded the freedom of the Velodrome from his deeper position, and the England skipper started a move that ended with Dele Alli glancing Sterling’s inswinging cross from the left wide, with Kane just unable to make contact behind him.
Russia were struggling to get out of their own half, and another two England chances went begging in the opening 20 minutes.
First, Alli failed to anticipate Danny Rose’s dangerous low delivery from the left that would have left him with a tap-in, before Lallana dragged a shot wide after more good work from Walker.
Kane then finally had the ball in the net only to be correctly denied by the offside flag, before Rooney – advancing forward for the first time – fizzed an effort from 20 yards straight at Akinfeev.
Half-time came at the wrong time for a relentless England side, and they struggled to move back through the gears after the interval.
Russia looked increasingly comfortable as England’s intensity dropped, and Fyodor Smolov had Joe Hart scrambling when he attempted to curl an effort into the bottom corner just after the hour.
Slutsky had his goalkeeper to thank for keeping his team level in the 70th minute. Danny Rose’s low cross was only half-cleared to the onrushing Rooney, who tried to place a low effort into the corner only to be denied by a stunning one-handed stop from Akinfeev.
But there was nothing Akinfeev could do moments later, when Dier finally broke the deadlock in some style.
It appeared as if Kane would strike the free-kick from just outside the box, but he ran over the ball to allow his Tottenham team-mate to thump an unstoppable, side-footed drive into the top corner.
Dier’s goal was no more than England deserved, but they were made to pay for their lack of ruthlessness when skipper Berezutski rose highest to nod back across goal and in.
Key Opta stats:
– At 25y 293d, England’s starting 11 against Russia was their second-youngest ever at a major finals after the 2002 World Cup clash with Sweden (25y 206d).
– Eric Dier is the 8th Tottenham player to score at a major tournament England, more than any other club.
– Dier’s strike was the first direct free-kick goal by an English player at a major finals since David Beckham v Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup.
– Dier scored despite never having attempted a single direct free-kick shot in his 65 Premier League appearances with Tottenham.
– Vasili Berezutski’s late goal was Russia’s first attempt on target since the 17th minute of the game.
– England have failed to win their opening game at a EURO finals (D5 L4).
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