MARSEILLE: Wayne Rooney began what may be a new era in his lengthy England career with a deep-lying midfield role against Russia at Euro 2016.
Sitting back in the centre of the pitch on Saturday, waiting for time and space to play a decisive pass, Rooney did the job he finished the English season performing at Manchester United in Louis van Gaal’s final months as manager.
One through ball in particular to Dele Alli could easily have resulted in a goal, and Rooney provided a calm, controlling presence in midfield in the 1-1 draw. Only a spectacular save by Russia’s Igor Akinfeev, who deflected a powerful shot onto the bar, prevented him from scoring.
England coach Roy Hodgson defended his decision to take his captain off for Jack Wilshere after Eric Dier’s 73rd-minute goal, rejecting suggestions it paved the way for Russia captain Vasily Berezutsky to head his team’s equalizer in stoppage time.
Hodgson said Rooney had “a good game” but had tired in the humid atmosphere.
“We just thought, with the control we have in the game and Jack Wilshere on the bench, that we could have the luxury of taking Wayne off the field and that Jack would do a similar job, and I think that’s exactly what happened,” Hodgson said.
“We didn’t honestly believe that we were in great difficulties during that period of time and we would see the game out at 1-0.”
Unable to convert possession into goals, England were hit by a late sucker-punch that condemned them to yet another poor start at the European Championship — in nine tournaments they have drawn five and lost four of their opening games.
Hodgson’s side was the second-youngest to appear for England at a major tournament, only surpassed in terms of its youth by the team that faced Sweden at the 2002 World Cup.
In the beginning it did not show as England dominated most of the exchanges, producing chance after chance from open play and set pieces as they ran at the Russians. Adam Lallana, Rooney and Harry Kane all had decent chances in the first half, but more often than not their efforts flew harmlessly wide or straight at the keeper.