Heartache for England amid bruising day for football

Marseille (AFP) – Russia captain Vasili Berezutski inflicted Euro 2016 heartache on England after a day in which fan violence brought new shame on football.

Gareth Bale’s cannon free kick helped Wales to a 2-1 win over Slovakia in their first match at a European Championship finals. Switzerland overcame 10-man Albania 1-0.

But battles involving Russian and English fans on the streets of Marseille and inside the Stade Velodrome and brawls in Nice where Northern Ireland play Poland on Sunday tainted the sport.

England had been heading for a win in their opening Group B match after midfielder Eric Dier fired a 20-metre free kick past veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev with 13 minutes to play.

But two minutes into injury time, England goalkeeper Joe Hart remained stuck to the ground as Berezutski rose to send a looping header into the net.

England centre-back Gary Cahill called the 1-1 result “kick in the teeth”.

“We got so close to a victory that would have been a deserved victory. So to lose it in the final minutes, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” said England manager Roy Hodgson.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Dier. “We gave away a draw. We just didn’t see it out the right way. We have to pick ourselves up and go again.”

– Stadium panic –

England’s players walked disconsolately off while more scuffles in the Stade Velodrome erupted as fans left. That added to pitched battles which left 31 injured in the Marseille port district earlier. One Englishman was in a critical condition.

French police fired tear gas for a third straight day to break up fans who hurled chairs, bottles and other missiles.

Another seven people were injured in Nice where Northern Ireland play Poland on Sunday. Bottles were hurled between rival groups in cafes in 45 minutes of urban brawling.

Christian Estrosi, head of the regional government that takes in Nice and Marseille condemned what he called “barbarian hooligans”.

England’s next game is against Wales in Lens on Thursday which could be both a sporting and police challenge.

Hodgson’s team will have to beat a Wales boosted by their opening 2-1 defeat of Slovakia.

Real Madrid star Bale slammed a dipping free kick over the Slovakia wall that gave goalkeeper Matus Kozacik no chance and set Wales on the way to victory.

Substitute Ondrej Dodu equalised for Slovakia but Wales replacement Hal Robson-Kanu, who is currently without a club, hit the winner nine minutes from the end.

Bale called the victory “just a memorable moment, a historic moment for our country.”

Bale said Welsh thoughts were already turning to their clash with Group B rivals England on Thursday.

“We’re not thinking about this game any more, it’s on to England,” he said. “We’ve done the first part, now two more to go.”

Switzerland’s Group A match against Albania had been billed as the clash of brothers Granit and Taulant Xhaka playing for opposing sides.

Granit’s side won the Group A encounter, but neither brother shone. Instead, Fabien Schaer’s powerful header secured the win after Albania captain Lorik Cana was sent off.

Hoffenheim centre back Schaer rose above the Albanian defence after just five minutes to head in from a corner by Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri.

Cana was given a second yellow card after 36 minutes when he handled on the edge of the penalty area.

Schaer said the goal was his answer to critics of his performances before the championship.

Albania never gave up and Switzerland failed to nail the match despite their numerical advantage.

“Afterwards we got a bit too passive,” Schaer said. “There were also a certain amount of nerves at the end.”

Albania boss Gianni De Biasi said the tension got to his players taking part in their first big tournament. “We needed a good start and that didn’t happen. The pressure got to us and for 20 minutes we were under par.”

UEFA could order an inquiry into the troubles inside the Marseille stadium, as it is responsible for the complex during the match.

Reports said a charge by Russian fans — whose country will host the 2018 World Cup — into an English section caused brief panic inside the stadium. 

England fans also blamed the latest clashes in Marseille’s Vieux-Port district on Russians who charged at them.

“There were about 100 Russians, they just came out of nowhere, something was thrown and that started it all off,” said one England supporter who asked not to be named.

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