Why England should still be dreaming
Sunday, 12 June 2016
Eric Dier told EURO2006.com there were "so many positives" to be taken despite England failing to beat Russia in Marseille; team reporter Simon Hart tots up the pluses.
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When the final whistle sounded at the Stade Vélodrome, Gary Cahill sank to the turf. Adam Lallana and Kyle Walker sat on their haunches. For England, a Russian equaliser in the third minute of added time had the bitter taste of defeat.
It meant England have still never won their opening match at a UEFA European Championship yet for goalscorer Eric Dier, there were still reasons for satisfaction after the 1-1 Group B draw.
"Obviously it's a shame, it's disappointing after how we played the game for 90 minutes," the Tottenham midfielder told EURO2016.com. "I thought we were brilliant up to their goal, which was disappointing, but there are so many positives to take from it and we can't let that overshadow it. We're looking forward to the next game now.
"I don't think we can let a goal in the 90-something-th minute disappoint us too much," he added. "The only negative is that we couldn't see the game out, which was disappointing, but we'll look at it and we'll try not to make the same mistake again."
So what were the positives, Dier spoke about?
• Wayne Rooney's accomplished display in the centre of midfield made Roy Hodgson's decision to play him there appear like a masterstroke. Rooney's vision and composure were eye-catching, the captain completing 47 successful passes out of 55 attempted, and he was unlucky not to score when Igor Akinfeev tipped his shot on to the crossbar.
Other teams might push on to Rooney more, but his performance underlined why England still rely on his experience and know-how.
• Full-backs Walker and Danny Rose were making their debuts in a major international tournament yet the Tottenham pair shone on the EURO stage. With Raheem Sterling and Lallana moving inside, it was the full-backs who gave England impressive width.
Between them they laid on a succession of dangerous balls, which somebody in a white shirt should really have profited from.
• Another notable positive was the contribution of Dier himself, another England tournament newbie, who acquitted himself well in the midfield anchor role and scored a terrific free-kick. It was England's first dead-ball strike at a major finals since David Beckham's winner against Ecuador at Gemany 2006 – ironic given Dier once picked up Beckham's autograph as a ten-year-old at UEFA EURO 2004.
"We've been practising it a lot since I joined up with England," said Dier of his goal. "I was hoping I'd get a chance and I got it luckily and took it, so I'm delighted with that."
And yet ...
It must be added that the freedom and intensity of England's first-half showing were exciting to witness and should give them heart – but at the same time the inability to punish Russia when on top, and failure to see the game out, meant this young side paid the price.
"Afterwards you could look and think could we have used more subs and done a bit more," Hodgson reflected, "but we didn't think we were in great difficulties and could see the game out at 1-0." They couldn't – and two points slipped from their grasp.