Violence erupted in the stands of the Stade Velodrome, with Russian supporters charging fleeing England fans as Vasili Berezutski’s stoppage time goal denied Roy Hodgson’s team a winning start to Euro 2016 in Marseille.
Having taken a 73rd minute lead through Eric Dier’s free-kick, England appeared set to record their first opening game win at the European Championships – a sorry sequence of nine games stretching back to 1968.
But Berezutki’s header, two minutes into stoppage time, secured a draw for Russia and sparked the post-match scenes which saw flares fired from the Russian contingent, who then broke through lightweight segregation to charge rival fans.
The shocking scenes were exacerbated by the lack of security or police to stem the tide of Russian supporters, who jumped over seats to attack England fans.
Following an afternoon of shameful fighting in the French port city, the violence inside the stadium is now likely to trigger a Uefa investigation
The events in Marseille’s Vieux Port prior to the game, when French police discharged tear gas due to running battles between rival supporters, created an air of tension which was borne out by the vociferous jeering of the Russian national anthem by the majority of English fans inside the Stade Velodrome.
A flimsy blue tarpaulin was all that separated the English and Russian sections of the ground, and tournament organisers and security officials would have been holding their breath, hoping to avoid further confrontation inside Marseille’s atmospheric stadium.
The outbreak of football focused attentions where they should be – on the pitch – and it was England who started brightest, with captain Wayne Rooney deployed in midfield in an effort to orchestrate the play.
But while the Manchester United forward was initially too keen to spray ambitious passes from one side of the pitch to the other, he eventually began to make the desired impact once he settled on playing the shorter game.
England’s initial threat came down the flanks, however, with Raheem Sterling’s pace down the left causing Russia problems and Kyle Walker enjoying time and space to penetrate the opposition penalty area down the right.
And following a 20-yard strike from Dele Alli which flew over the bar on three minutes, England forced the first save from Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev four minutes later when Rooney’s pass to Walker resulted in Adam Lallana seeing his shot from the Tottenham full-back’s lay-off tipped over the crossbar.
Sterling then crossed for Alli to head wide before Chris Smalling forced another save from Akinfeev with a header from Harry Kane’s corner.
It was all England. Russia, with their towering centre-forward Artem Dzyuba isolated up-front, struggled to escape their own half.
Leonid Slutsky’s team did not trouble Joe Hart until the England goalkeeper made a routine save from Sergei Ignashevich’s 17th minute header and England found themselves facing an opponent lacking the flair to carve them open.
With CSKA Moscow playmaker Alan Dzagoev ruled out of Euro 2016 due to injury, the Russians sat back and attempted to hit England on the break, but Roy Hodgson’s players were missing good chances to take the lead.
Danny Rose produced a teasing cross from the left which went through the six-yard box without an English foot anywhere close to connecting with it, while Lallana shot wide from 12 yards after being fed by Walker once again.
By the 35 minute mark, England had created eight clear chances, but failed to take any of them.
Igor Smolnikov was Russia’s savour for one of them, with the defender denying Sterling with a crucial last-ditch challenge before Akinfeev unconvincingly punched clear a Rooney shot from 20 yards.
Historically, the game was following a familiar path for England. Having failed to win any of their previous eight opening fixtures at the European Championships, the missed chances were mounting up and threatening to ensure a repeat.
But Marseille was the scene of a rare opening game victory in the World Cup in 1998, when Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer scored in a 2-0 victory against Tunisia, and the omens did offer some hope of a positive outcome.
Russia were so poor and one-dimensional in the first-half that they surely could not be any worse after the interval.
But aside from a brief early flurry from Oleg Shatov and Aleksandr Kokorin, who both found gaps behind the England back four, Slutsky’s team continued to sit back and soak up English pressure.
They were clearly there for the taking, but England lacked the nous to make the breakthrough, with Sterling producing one of those frustrating performances in which he does ninety per cent of his job right, only to let himself – and his team – down at the decisive moment.
The Manchester City winger can beat a man and find space, but far too often, he fails to make it count with a killer pass.
So England were left to test the Russians with set-pieces – Kane’s free-kick on 53 minutes caused consternation in the Russia penalty area, but ultimately came to nothing, while Rooney sent another free-kick over the bar from 20 yards after Kane had been crudely fouled by Ignashevich.
Dier’s free-kick gave England the lead after Georgi Schennikov had been booked for upending Kane on the edge of the penalty area.
Twenty yards out, Dier sent an unstoppable strike beyond Akinfeev to put England firmly in control.
But just as the game looked to be won, Berezutski outjumped Rose to head past Hart with seconds left to play.
It was a sickening blow for England, but what followed was far worse.
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