Roy Hodgson, it must be said in all objectivity and honesty, did it the hard way.
It astonished me that after a performance as disappointing and patchy as the one against Russia, he should come out against Wales with the same unsatisfactory team.
What in the name of common sense was Raheem Sterling doing there? What for that matter was he doing in the squad at all? Poor against Russia, he had another ineffectual first half against Wales, missing among other things a good chance and only then at half time did Hodgson take him off.
Only then did he bring on Jamie Vardy and Sturridge who should both have been used against that ponderous Russian defence.
Wales were truly there to be taken. Bale’s free kick goal – helped, alas, by the poor positioning of Hart as it had been helped by goalkeeping error in the first Welsh game, was however spectacularly out of the blue. England dominated the first half without scoring.
Brilliant substitutions, as some supposed experts called it? Almost perverse initial choices might be nearer the mark.
Vardy and Sturridge would have excelled against that ponderous Russian defence. Wayne Rooney though, in midfield is having his best tournament for England since his excellence in Portugal, before being crocked, all those years ago.
England should certainly go farther. It isn’t a tournament graced so far by any outstanding team. But Wales, however hard they fought were there to be taken, however long it took for the penny to drop with Roy and England
The barbaric scenes in Marseille where a platoon of Russian thugs, hell bent on violence, ran riot without a single arrest among the 150, took me back to an old satiric ditty about the French police. “We are the guardians of society and of ourselves we take good care…when trouble comes we’re never there. But if we spy a helpless woman, or a feeble child in arms, we run them in, we run them in, we run them in, we run them in, we show them we’re the bold gendarmes.”
This is not to exonerate the loutish violence among England’s hooligan fans but it paled into insignificance – a handful of arrests with short gaol terms for relatively minor offences – compared with the organised viciousness of the Russian brutes.
Of whom Igor Lebedev, an executive member of the Russian Football Union and deputy chairman of the national parliament had this to say: “I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting; quite the opposite. Well done lads, keep it up!”
“I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticising our fans. We should defend them and then we can sort it out when we come home…
“In nine out of ten cases football fans go to games to fight and that’s normal. The lads defended the honour of our country and did not let English fans desecrate our motherland. We should forgive and understand our fans.”
Small wonder that not long ago, an American woman diplomat based in Moscow sent home a message that Russia had become a Mafia state. Capable too of a shocking programme of drugs for athletes which demanded exclusion from the coming Olympics in Brazil.