Here’s what happened on Saturday on Matchday 2 of UEFA Euro 2016 in France, in case you missed it…
• Read match report: Albania 0, Switzerland 1 in Lens || Match stats
• Read match report: Wales 2, Slovakia 1 in Bordeaux || Match stats
• Read match report: England 1, Russia 1 in Marseille || Match stats
THOUGHTS ON THE DAY
Same old England: We shouldn’t be surprised. England dominated the opening half against Russia, and looked the better side for long stretches. On the balance of play, England deserved to win. But “deserve” has nothing to do with anything—sports aren’t a meritocracy. You have to take your chances, and put the game away when given the opportunity. England didn’t do that, allowing Russia to stick around after Eric Dier gave the Three Lions the lead in the 73rd minute with a marvelous free kick. The Russians were dreadful on this day—pedestrian in their build-up play, and looking slow and plodding most of the time—but they nicked an equalizer deep into injury time via a Denis Glushakov header after the English defence switched off. Really, England should have won this game. Not that they were particularly brilliant—you have to think far better sides would have exposed that midfield three of Dier, Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney—but because Russia was so tame and offered next to nothing going forward. The English team’s recent history in opening games at major tournaments makes for grim reading: drawing the U.S. (2010 World Cup), losing to Italy (2014 World Cup), and drawing France (Euro 212). In total, England has never won its opener at the European Championship (losing four of nine matches), and now they must face their two toughest opponents of the group stage: Wales and Slovakia. Based on how they performed against Russia, you wouldn’t favour England against either of those nations. England might feel aggrieved with this result. But the truth is, they got exactly what they deserved for not killing off the game.
Workmanlike effort from Wales: What a moment for Wales. Playing in their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, this Welsh side marked its Euro debut with a hard-fought win over Slovakia. Gareth Bale (what a spectacular free kick goal!) and Aaron Ramsey were immense in attack, linking up effectively to put pressure on the Slovakians. But it was the team’s unheralded heroes that also came up big. Defender Ben Davies was immense, quarterbacking a back line that was well-organized and gave way very little. Substitute Hal Robson-Kanu scored the late winner, while Danny Ward looked steady in net in only his fourth appearance— Wayne Hennesey was ruled out with a back injury after starting every minute of the qualifiers. Credit to Wales, too, for staying composed after Slovakia tied the game in the second half and began to take control of the game. Chris Coleman’s side valiantly fought back and kept doing what worked so well for them early on in the match, and were duly rewarded. A workmanlike effort for Wales, complimented by the class of Bale and Ramsey. It all sets up quite nicely for Wales, who next face England on Thursday in Lens for control of Group B, a game the Welsh will feel pretty confident about after this display. As Coleman said in the post-match press conference, there’s nothing for Wales to fear, and that includes England.
A crucial win for Switzerland: This really was a must-win for the Swiss, who after disposing of their easiest opponents in Albania now face daunting tasks in their next matches, against Romania and hosts France. But they’re going to have to play much better than this, even though Granit Xhaka was pure class for the Swiss in midfield. Switzerland was bailed out by its goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who made a number of big saves (including one in the 87th minute to preserve the win), and was abetted by Albanian captain Lorik Cana, who was sent off in the 37th minute. Despite playing a man down, Albania held their own, with right fullback Elseid Hysaj playing some wonderful balls forward for his teammates to latch onto in the final third. Albania had chances to equalize, only to be let down by poor finishing in front of goal, and being thwarted by Yann. Three points for Switzerland, but it wasn’t terribly impressive considering the calibre of their opponents and that they had the man advantage for most of the contest.
MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.
• Match schedule || Group standings || Live scoreboard || Latest news
• Profiles: All 24 teams || History of Euro || Top 10 moments in Euro history
• Sportsnet’s predictions || 10 players to watch || 5 key group stage games
• Feature stories || Soccer Central podcast || Team roster lists ||
GOAL OF THE DAY
What a fabulous free kick goal by Gareth Bale for Wales—a dipping strike from 30 yards out that featured amazing movement on the ball as it sailed past Slovakian goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.
— EuroGifs (@EuroGifs) June 11, 2016
SAVE OF THE DAY
Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev came up with an insane stop in the 71st minute, getting down low to tip a driving shot by Wayne Rooney from 10 yards out off the crossbar.
— FootballGIFs (@GIFsFootie) June 11, 2016
MATCH OF THE DAY
Wales’ 2-1 win over Slovakia in Bordeaux was pretty entertaining, featuring that fabulous Gareth Bale free kick, some wonderful end-to-end soccer, and a dramatic late goal.
THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
FT Wales 2-1 Slovakia
Wales' big two deliver… Bale scores, Ramsey assists.
— Colm McMullan (@tiki_taka_co) June 11, 2016
BEST MOMENT OF THE DAY
It was pretty special when brothers Taulant Xhaka (of Albania) and Granit Xhaka (of Switzerland) exchanged handshakes as part of the ceremonial pre-game pleasantries before facing off against one another.
— UEFA EURO 2016 (@UEFAEURO) June 11, 2016
HE SAID IT
“We’ll enjoy this moment, this tournament, if we do what we did today – that is what it is all about. It is not just coming in, enjoying it and going home [at the end of the group stage] and saying: ‘Well, it’s our first tournament.’ There’s nothing to be afraid of. If we do what we can do, we know that there is every chance that we can get what we need.” – Chris Coleman, Wales manager.
TWEET OF THE DAY
— footballitalia (@footballitalia) June 11, 2016
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Albania is the fourth team to receive a red card in its Euro debut—(England in 1968, Netherlands in 1976, and Bulgaria in 1996).
• Switzerland on Saturday won its opening game at the Euros for the first time in its history, earning only their second win in 10 matches at the tournament.
• Wales’ Gareth Bale is the first British player to score a direct free kick at the European Championship finals.
• Slovakia’s Ondrej Duda scored after 52 seconds on Saturday, the fastest Euro goal by a substitute since Spain’s Juan Carlos Valeron scored after 39 seconds against Russia in 2004.
• England remain winless its opening games at the European Championship (five draws, four losses).
• Russia has kept two clean sheets in their last 16 games at the European Championship.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Aaron Ramsey, Wales: A driving force in the Welsh attack, he linked up brilliantly with Gareth Bale. He also had a hand in setting up Hal Robson-Kanu’s late winner.
2) Granit Xhaka, Switzerland: The Swiss midfielder was instrumental in his side’s win with his deft possessions skills (he had 60 touches on the ball in the first half alone) and passes that unlocked the Albanian defence. Silky smooth on the ball.
3) Ben Davies, Wales: The Tottenham defender was a key player for Wales, making an important goal-line clearance in the opening minutes, and a number of critical interceptions and tackles the rest of the way.
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