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England won't succeed under indecisive Hodgson, says Neil Humphreys
Manager's indecision and lack of vision will ruin this talented Three Lions outfit
(Eric Dier 73)
(Vasili Berezutski 90+2)
With a fraction of the talent and fewer resources, Chris Coleman has humiliated Roy Hodgson.
They meet on Friday morning (Singapore time), but the Wales manager has already struck the first psychological blow from afar.
He adhered to the radical concept of playing his most accomplished players in their natural positions.
The exasperating Hodgson continues to pen team-sheets like a blindfolded pub regular hoping to hit double top on a dartboard.
Strip away the insufferable hullabaloo that follows the England bandwagon whenever the Three Lions roll into town and the unavoidable reality remains.
England will win nothing with Hodgson at the helm or get anywhere close to fulfilling their potential.
Russia's late equaliser in the Group B opener allows England to again wallow in the self-pity that consumes them at most tournaments.
Hodgson rambled on about bitter pills being tough to swallow, but he got what he deserved against a limited Russian side.
His tireless players, on the other hand, have cause to feel a little hard done by.
After a two-year qualification campaign, which achieved a safe passage with three matches to spare, the England manager chose the crucial opening game to experiment.
It's no coincidence that Euro 2016 magazines and supplements, often prepared weeks in advance to meet printing demands, had little idea of Hodgson's starting line-up. The uncertainty remained until an hour before kick-off.
For weeks now, the 68-year-old's erratic selections and formations in friendlies revealed a man behaving like a sugar-crazed toddler suddenly handed the keys to the candy store and isn't sure which sweetie to gorge on first.
Realising every cynic's worst fears, Hodgson picked the opener to field a largely untested set of players, in a collective sense, in an unfamiliar line-up with a number inexplicably used out of position.
That he almost got away with it said more about Russia's creaking midfield and defence, led by Vasili Berezutski, who will be 34 next week and still leapt highest in the box to snatch a point.
The simplistic analysis persists that the youngest team in the tournament was a testament to Hodgson's newfound boldness, but it's really quite the opposite.
Players were frustratingly pulled from side to side with the uncomfortable jerkiness of a tug-of-war team, all to incorporate their skipper.
Wayne Rooney, popping up everywhere from centre-back to centre-forward and stopping at each station along the way, delivered a typically bullish display so often favoured in the British media, ticking every heart-on-sleeve cliche.
Rooney did indeed impress and, yet, Hodgson opted to remove his most experienced Lion at a time when cooler, older heads needed to prevail.
More importantly, Rooney's accomplished showing required too many sacrificial lambs elsewhere.
Dele Alli was shunted wide, denying England's most naturally gifted No. 10 a chance to get anywhere near his best position.
Adam Lallana's jittery approach in front of goal, which can resemble a octopus let loose with a machine gun, saw a couple of chances spurned, and yet he was often England's most advanced attacker.
Harry Kane, the Three Lions' only complete striker, took corners.
One of the most feared marksmen in Europe took corners.
The Tottenham forward now finds himself unfairly chastised for being off his game, but he was never granted the opportunity to be on it.
As Kyle Walker aptly demonstrated, the Russians were susceptible to pace, but Jamie Vardy never left the bench.
He was never going to. Long-suffering followers of Hodgson's travails knew it. Vardy knew it and even the Russians probably had a shrewd idea.
Leicester City's electrifying title-winner represented too much of a risk. The hare was up against the tactical tortoise.
After three tournaments, Hodgson still can't help himself.
England's obvious standout performer excelled for the simplest of reasons. Of all the six forward players engaged in Hodgson's shape-shifting sorcery, Eric Dier was really the only one in his recognised position.
Tottenham's young terrier patrolled England's shaky defence and remained a fixed point for the front five. He will now start against Wales.
Rooney is also an immovable object, which leaves Hodgson with headaches of his own creation.
Raheem Sterling remains a pair of runaway legs in search of an end product.
Kane looks lost and lonely; Lallana is neither a winger nor a striker; and Alli cannot dictate proceedings from the touchline.
In his second Group B game, Hodgson must tinker again. He's still experimenting, still unsure of his best 11 or even their positions.
A campaign two years and two Euro 2016 games in the making is still lacking in focus and direction. It's the common tale of tournaments past.
But on this occasion, the problem is no longer the players.
It's the muddled man in the dugout.
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Veteran Buffon the rock in a defence that will be crucial to Italy's chances
BELGIUM v ITALY
(Tomorrow, 3am, Singtel TV Ch 142, StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven Euro)
They have been written off, and ridiculed.
Italy don't stand a chance in Euro 2016's Group of Death, the experts would have us believe.
Yet, some optimism hovers over the Italian camp.
The Azzurri are too experienced to be cowed into submission.
Gianluigi Buffon exuded a picture of calm when he spoke ahead of Italy's opening clash with Belgium at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
A veteran speaking through battle scars after years battling in various fields throughout the world, he reminded everyone of Italy's traditional strength.
Alluding to their trademark teamwork and never-say-die mentality, the 38-year-old goalkeeper said quite simply: "Italy's strength has always been our group.
"We are a very united group who, with humility, sacrifice and a good technical and tactical preparation, can also have our say in France."
In order for that to happen, Italy's 157-cap skipper will have to once again show the way.
For the foundation of their charge at Euro 2016 lies in a defence where he stands as its beating heart, with an expected three-man backline acting as his shield.
Age might have slowed Buffon down a little, but he is still one of the best around.
In the 2015/16 season, the 2006 World Cup winner kept 21 clean sheets in the Serie A to help Juventus to the title.
His tally was six better than both Samir Handanovic of Inter Milan and Pepe Reina of Napoli, who were joint-second in the clean sheets' table.
But Buffon provides more than simply prowess between the posts.
Italy look to him for leadership and organisation.
They need him more than ever, considering the tricky tests ahead.
Matches against Sweden and the Republic of Ireland follow the opening battle with tournament darkhorses Belgium.
Barring injuries and suspension, the three men expected to provide their goalkeeper with protection in France are Andrea Barzagli, 35, Leonardo Bonucci, 29, and Giorgio Chiellini, 31, who with Buffon form a Juventus block at the base.
The transition from club to international football has never looked easier.
Five years of playing together in the same team week in, week out, has developed a telepathy between them that more than makes up for a lack of youthful energy and speed.
That coach Antonio Conte admitted that this was probably the only part of his formation set in stone speaks volumes of his faith in his defensive system.
A strong Italian defence will be more important than ever before because there is much uncertainty over the other departments.
If Buffon had sounded a little too cautious in his assessment of his own side, it's because the veteran of five World Cups and three European Championships probably can't recall a tournament in which the national squad appear so stretched.
Injuries have robbed the Azzurri of two of their most influential midfielders, Paris St Germain's Marco Verratti and Juventus' Claudio Marchisio.
Daniele de Rossi is the familiar face and reassuring presence in the engine room.
But at the age of 32, and without the tireless Marchisio and the retired Andrea Pirlo around him, de Rossi will be required to do much back-breaking work.
Poor form and a lack of quality coming through the ranks have also seen Conte's options up front cut down drastically.
The likes of Simone Zaza, Graziano Pelle and Eder certainly don't inspire confidence.
Italy's salvation comes at the other end of the field, where their talisman continues to stand tall some 19 years after making his international debut.
Buffon will be the calming influence.
His presence alone should make Italy's opponents think twice about writing them off.
Italy’s strength has always been our group. We are a very united group who, with humility, sacrifice and a good technical and tactical preparation, can also have our say in France.
— Italy skipper and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, 38
I will retire when Buffon does — and he just signed a new deal, so have I and I’m happy.
— Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, 35, when asked about retirement