Reacting to England’s stoppage-time win over their old rivals in Lens, fans who watched the match at Emirates Golf Club’s dedicated fan zone in Dubai, reserved admiration for Hodgson but admitted there is still a long way to go for England in Euro 2016.
Lens: Two minutes before Gareth Bale’s free-kick gave his side a 1-0 lead over England, the Wales supporters’ brass band – brilliantly named The Barry Horns – had been blasting out Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger. At half-time, it certainly seemed Bale may have dealt the blow that knocked England out of Euro 2016.
But Roy Hodgson’s side picked themselves off the canvas and, fortified by a pair of forwards, came out swinging. Forty-five minutes later, with both substitutes on the scoresheet, their hands were raised in victory. It was the first time ever that England had come from behind at half-time to win a game at a major championship.
With his initial line-up unchanged from the first game against Russia, Hodgson had again played the role of cowardly Lion. It took a goal from Bale to prompt him, but he finally found his courage in Lens, bringing on two strikers at half-time to inject fresh impetus into the game. The introduction of Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy really was a bold move and one that, considering Hodgson’s previous penchant for conservatism at major tournaments, should be wholeheartedly applauded.
STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD
Having borne three points from his bravery, Hodgson will now surely opt for a two-man forward line against Slovakia, particularly after another insipid display from Raheem Sterling. With that comes a dilemma: to which of his goalscorers should Hodgson hand a start?
The case for Vardy is certainly a compelling one. His confidence is sky high after the most successful season of his career ended with a title winners’ medal round his neck and a Football Writers’ Player of the Year award on his mantelpiece. He also now has four goals in his past five games for England.
Vardy’s strike against Wales was reminiscent of another Leicester legend. Gary Lineker was a master poacher for England and at the 1986 World Cup, finished as the tournament’s top scorer despite having his wrist in a cast following a small pre-tournament fracture. Fast forward 30 years and Vardy, wrist still wrapped in a bandage following an early-season injury, demonstrated the sort of predatory prowess for which Lineker was renowned to equalise for England.
But Vardy, England’s 21st century Fox in the box, has seemingly struggled to win Hodgson’s affection.
Maybe Sturridge will have more hope. His dance moves may be well established, but it is his unpredictability on the pitch that is the Liverpool striker’s biggest strength. His goal against Sevilla in the Europa League final demonstrated a natural talent for improvisation and he did it again against Wales, his finish lifted as it was so delightfully over Chris Gunter’s outstretched leg.
Sturridge remains a bit of a wildcard, an injury-plagued season contrasting with the consistency enjoyed by Vardy and Harry Kane, whose place in the side to face Slovakia is certainly not guaranteed after his half-time withdrawal at the Stade Boallert-Delelis. Hodgson may yet surprise us all and start with Sturridge and Vardy, though such a radical reconstruction of his frontline is both unprecedented and unlikely.
Hodgson looked a relieved man when the final whistle confirmed England’s rapid rise from third in the group to first, and it was a feeling undoubtedly shared by Joe Hart.
The last time England played a Home Nation at a major championship, goalkeeper David Seaman produced a star turn to save Gary McCallister’s penalty at Euro ’96 – Paul Gascoigne’s memorable winner against Scotland coming a matter of seconds later.
For Hart though, it was nearly a nightmare versus England’s neighbours. Against Slovakia, a swerving effort from Bale bamboozled Matúš Kozáčik as the Welshman set his side on the way to victory. His strike against England, which saw him become only the third player after Michel Platini (1984) and Thomas Hassler (1992) to score two free-kicks at one European Championship, also moved a little – but there is no question Hart should have pushed the ball round the post rather than into his net.
The Manchester City man will find empathy easy to come by, Hart certainly not the first England keeper to make an error at a major tournament. Seaman went from hero at Euro ’96 to villain at the 2002 World Cup when he let Ronaldinho’s free-kick drop over his head, while Robert Green spilled Clint Dempsey’s speculative effort into his own goal at the 2010 World Cup. And then there was the pair of clangers against Croatia from Paul Robinson in 2006 and Scott Carson in 2007 – though they came in qualifying.
Joe Hart must have had shampoo in his eyes. pic.twitter.com/w0FbrbB0GF— Footy Humour (@FootyHumour) June 16, 2016
“England’s going out, they’re going out…” sang the Welsh fans ahead of the game, to the tune of their opponents’ famous anthem Three Lions on a Shirt. Had it finished a draw in Lens, there could have been some truth to it, England’s last game against Slovakia likely to be an even contest if the performance of Vladimir Weiss, Marek Hamsik and Co. against Russia on Wednesday is any indication.
Now though, England are in pole position to advance and Wales need a result against Russia if they are to guarantee progress. Chris Coleman’s side struggled to get a foothold in the game, their 36 per cent possession accurately representing the flow of the match. The goal aside, Bale struggled to exert any influence and the same could be said of blonde bombshell Aaron Ramsey, whose team-mates seemed unable to find him with any regularity despite his beacon-like barnet.
Still, Coleman’s men certainly have reason to be confident of progressing, not least the prospect of Bale running at Russia’s ageing centre-back pairing of Sergei Iganshevich and Vasili Berezutski. In defence, too, they appear generally sound. Vardy’s goal for England came from an uncharacteristically loose header from the otherwise solid Ashley Williams, while the ball also fell rather fortuitously to Sturridge at the death, Delle Alli’s flick not actually aimed towards the Liverpool frontman.
Wales may still not have beaten England since Mark Hughes scored the winner at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground in 1984 – David Vaughan was the only member of the current squad alive back then – but optimism still reigns for those in red. Like the fans who have followed this team around their first major tournament in 58 years, Wales have shown plenty of heart and made plenty of noise. Get a result against Russia, and the Red Dragon will roar into the last-16.
Gareth McAuley spoke of the satisfaction Northern Ireland had taken from overcoming widespread doubts to defeat Ukraine 2-0 in Lyon and secure their first ever win at a European Championships.
McAuley’s powerful 49th-minute header and Niall McGinn’s close-range finish deep into stoppage time secured an unexpected victory against higher-profile opposition.
It also revived Northern Ireland’s hopes of progressing to the competition’s knockout stages from the competitive Group C, taking them level on three points with Germany and Poland who play later on Thursday evening.
Read the full match report, click here.
Here’s the best of the post-match interviews from Lyon:
Gareth McAuley, Northern Ireland goalscorer:
“Nobody has given us a chance. Lots of people said we wouldn’t get a point. We weren’t at it against Poland – to our standards, the intensity we wanted to play at – but tonight was a lot better. We’re delighted for every one of these people that’s come to support us.
“It’s special (to score), it’ll sink in probably over the next few days. The team performance was pleasing, the reaction from getting beaten against Poland…We’ve got a tough game to look forward to now, and we’ve got something to play for: that’s what we wanted.
“We had a point to prove to ourselves. These (fans) are with us no matter what. We thought we’d let ourselves down (against Poland ), just with the intensity we played at.
“But we’ve put it right. We’ve got a big game to look forward to in Paris (against Germany).
“It’s pleasing, it’s good, (there’s a) tough game ahead but we’re delighted.
“The lads will take confidence from it, because we’d been written off.”
Taras Stepanenko, Ukraine:
“It’s clear that it was a do-or-die game and it seems clear that we’re out of the tournament.
“The last game is not going to have any special value for the tournament, just for the prestige.”