Before I forget, I want to bring attention to the fact that not only did the United States men’s national soccer team move on to the quarterfinals of Copa America, but it also ended up winning its group, meaning that the USMNT will likely face Peru instead of Brazil. What a relief.
The opening day of the 2016 European Championship went off without a hitch, much to the relief of everyone. After a magnificent opening ceremony that included French military jets flying over the Stade de France and leaving the French colors behind in the sky, France defeated Romania by a score of 2-1 thanks to a magnificent goal by Dimitri Payet.
The second day of the Euro Cup also got off to a pretty good start. Switzerland beat 10-man Albania in a faceoff between the Xhaka brothers, and Wales won its first game in a major tournament since 1958 in a thrilling match against Slovakia. Gareth Bale, of course, led the way with a stunning goal but it was really thanks to a team effort that the Welsh side prevailed over a scrappy Slovakia.
And then there was the England-Russia game. Reports had been coming in before the game that there were tense clashes between supporters of the two sides in Marseille in the days leading up to the match. Several British citizens were taken to hospitals as a result of these clashes, and the police had to resort to tear gas and water cannons in order to stop the violence.
In a video that can be seen here, police are nowhere to be seen anywhere near the brawl between the Russian and English fans. However, when the game got underway, it seemed that all would be well. Physical barriers separated the English and Russian supporters and there was reportedly heavy security present. During the first half, the English side completely dominated a star-less Russian side yet inexplicably failed to score.
It took England until after the 70th minute to finally get the goal that the Lions had been pursuing. Tottenham teammates Eric Dier and Harry Kane appeared to argue over who would take the critical free kick, but fortunately for England, Dier took the kick and scored a magnificent goal as a result. It seemed that England would finally break its curse of failing to win its opening game of a tournament.
That is, until England pulled the most England thing ever. Most of the blame belongs to England manager Roy Hodgson, who, for whatever reason, decided it would be a brilliant idea to pull captain — and man of the match — Wayne Rooney off the pitch immediately after Dier scored.
Furthermore, Hodgson made questionable substitutions. It therefore was no surprise —correction, it should have been no surprise given England’s track record at tournaments — when Russia’s captain Vasili Berezutski scored on a header in the very literal last minute of the game.
What happened next however was even more astonishing. During the game, flares shot off throughout the stadium. Flares are not even supposed to be present in any football stadium, so the security appears to have really dropped the ball on this one, despite French assurances that detailed security would be in place. It is especially frightening in light of the horrific Paris attacks that took place this past November.
Unfortunately, flares were not the only event to happen during this game. Immediately after Russia scored, Russian fans could be seen leaping over the apparently flimsy barricades into the English supporter sides.
All over the internet, there are photos and videos of the Russian fans charging at the English while England supporters frantically attempted to flee the scene. It was terrible to watch and eerily reminiscent of disasters like Hillsborough, where 96 Liverpool fans died in a terrible crush. It is very fortunate that no one died.
This event raises very important questions. First off, where were the security guards when Russian supporters were hopping the barricades? According to several witnesses, the guards took some time to respond to the mass chaos. This, in turn, raises another question: What happened to the security that was promised? The fact that fans were both able to smuggle in flares and leap over supposedly strong barricades with no trouble at all is something that should scare everyone.
What will be done to prevent further fights from breaking out? It is already clear from the games between Croatia and Turkey as well as Poland and Northern Ireland that the French have increased security. Security guards are now stationed between every single division in a section, a move that one can only hope will prevent hooliganism from breaking out.
Furthermore, the Union of European Football Associations announced that it was beginning to take preliminary actions against the Russian Football Association, as well as warning English and Russian fans that any further disturbances could lead to disqualifications from the tournament. This is exactly what needs to happen, and it is heartening to see UEFA taking such quick action. We can only hope that the rest of the tournament will go off without any hitches.
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