England and Wales had contrasting fortunes in France...
1. Wayne Rooney can operate in midfield for England
It was one of the big questions going into this tournament; how would Wayne Rooney fit into Roy Hodgson’s starting line-up? The England manager has constantly backed his captain and as such his place in the XI was rarely doubted. However, few would have foreseen how much Rooney would thrive as part of a midfield three. Alongside the youthful Dele Alli and Eric Dier, Rooney was able to dictate England’s opener against Russia with consummate ease. The 30-year-old said afterwards he never doubted his ability to play the role, having operated for Manchester United there this season. However, his commanding performance will have pleased Hodgson. The Rooney critics have disappeared and now is the time for the England captain to make his mark on a major tournament for the first time since 2004.
2. England’s defence must tighten up if they are to go far
Saturday night ended in a familiar fashion for England as they once again allowed an inferior team back into a match with sloppy defending. Before Russia’s last-gasp equaliser, the back-four had been relatively untroubled but Vasili Berezutski’s header from a corner will have disappointed Roy Hodgson. The centre-back was being marked by Danny Rose - as clear a mismatch as you are likely to see during this tournament. It was poor from England and the kind of lapse of defensive concentration Hodgson will want to quickly eradicate. The squad is not blessed with bundles of defensive prowess, as shown by the fact only seven defenders are in it, but if they are to go far in this competition they must tighten up. .
3 Wales are in control of Group B
Hal Robson-Kanu’s late strike to win Group B’s opening game not only sank Slovakia but put Wales firmly in control of the group, especially when England only drew. England really need to beat Wales on Thursday, while Chris Coleman’s side now have three points and the prospect of facing a modest Russia side in their final game. Welsh players spoke after the game in Bordeaux about their win taking the pressure off them ahead of Lens, and that pressure is now on England – and we all know what pressure does to footballers. Coleman spoke before the tournament of the need to get four points in order to progress to the knockout stages and they are three-quarters of the way there with two games to go.
4 Gareth Bale is wasted as a central striker
Ok, he scored a spectacular goal with one of his trademark free-kicks to set Wales on their way, but Bale is wasted as a centre-forward. However tempting it must be to have your most potent weapon and top scorer playing in a position where the majority of goalscoring chances occur, the evidence of the first hour in Bordeaux was Bale does not look comfortable playing there and was largely marginal to the game. It was only when Chris Coleman sent on Hal Robson-Kanu and allowed Bale to play in his more natural position that the Real Madrid man looked like his old self, running at defenders and opening up Slovakia.
Coleman may justifiably feel central defence will be England’s point of least resistance, but Robson-Kanu has surely earned the centre-forward berth back, meaning Bale can wreak havoc from a deeper position.
5 Martin Skrtel was lucky not to see red – more than once
The Liverpool defender got away with two challenges against Wales that might have brought him a red card The first was an elbow into the neck of Jonny Williams when the Wales winger was contesting a ball in Slovakia’s penalty area. Neither the Norwegian referee nor his assistant behind the goal – and feet away from the incident – saw anything other than a legitimate body check, but replays showed a horrible challenge that should have been a penalty and red card.
Skrtel did not learn his lesson however, and finally got a yellow late in the game when he threw himself at Ben Davies with a sliding lunge that just missed the Tottenham man.
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