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Violence mars England draw

It was a fitting end to another dark day for England.

After an afternoon of fans rioting with their Russian counterparts and French police across Marseille for a third day in succession, they failed to break their duck of winning the first game at a European Championship.

Having turned in a performance of enterprise that lacked only the killer touch in front of goal, Roy Hodgson’s men will be kicking themselves repeatedly for failing to take the numerous chances that came their way in a largely one-sided affair.

Eric Dier’s wonderful 73rd-minute free-kick looked to have won it for England, only for Russia skipper Vasili Berezutski to deny the Three Lions with a towering, injury-time equaliser.

But it was entirely in keeping with the day, that it was marred by more violence on the terraces.

And it should be made clear: it was not England fans to blame.

Having already set off fireworks from their end, Russian fans charged across the flimsy blue tarpaulin to lay into innocent English supporters attempting to cope with the disappointment of the late leveller.

Stewards were powerless while there seemed to be no police presence whatsoever.

Eventually, calm was restored but it is hoped that UEFA this time charge the real villains of the piece.

What will follow in Marseille is anyone’s guess.

The trouble will rightly overshadow what came before with England, and in particular, Wayne Rooney looking to lay down a marker for the rest of the tournament.

The wisdom in dropping England’s record goalscorer into a deeper role has been questioned with Rooney having to defend himself at the press conference ahead of the opener at the Stade Velodrome.

Even Russia boss Leonid Slutsky got in on the act pre-match, claiming Rooney was “not the player he was”.

Maybe not. The daring charges into the box are no more and the goals have dried up – just eight in the Premier League for Manchester United this season.

But, as Rooney says, with his “football intelligence” he is happy to play in midfield.

And against Russia, all his nous and know-how came to the fore, at both ends of the field.

His ball retention was particularly impressive, fewer ‘Hollywood’ passes across the width of the field and more short, sharp balls into the feet of the forward trio, allowing them to turn and run at the Russia defence.

It was noticeable that when England lost their way in the first 20 minutes of the second half it was as a result of not getting Rooney on the ball enough.

But just when it seemed Russia were fancying their chances of snatching a winner, it was Rooney who drove England forward once more.

His surge and pass to Dele Alli drew a foul from Georgi Schennikov and, from 20 yards out, Dier curled home a wonderful strike.

Rooney departed after 77 minutes to a standing ovation – perhaps feeling the effects of his all-action display – and his calming presence was missed.

A speculative cross from the left was met with force by Berezutski and Russia escaped with a point.

It is unlikely they – or England – will escape UEFA sanctions.

Sat 11 Jun, 2016
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