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Russia quietly aglow after making their point

by Richard van Poortvliet in Coissy sur Seine

"It is good that we managed to level it up at the end," said Vasili Berezutski coolly; Richard van Poortvliet found Russia quietly exuberant as he flew home with the team.

"It is good that we managed to level it up at the end," said Vasili Berezutski after heading Russia's late leveller against England. "You could say this draw was like a victory. We earned a point and it's very good that we've managed to start the tournament with points on the board. It would be more difficult otherwise."

The 33-year-old may not sound overwhelmed with joy when you see those words written, but as flew back from Marseille with the team on Saturday night, Russia had plenty to be pleased about.

Saturday was a long day for the team - they did not get back to their team hotel until 3:30 this morning - but while there were weary faces on the return flight, there were plenty of happy ones too. The usual suspects - Artem Dzyuba and the Berezutski brothers, Aleksei and Vasili - were full of laughs, while Igor Akinfeev was also in a jovial mood, the CSKA Moskva goalkeeper having made a stunning save to deny captain Wayne Rooney just before Eric Dier's goal put England in front.

Fittingly, the song Provence by the Russian pop group Elka was playing in the cabin as the plane left Marseille, the capital of that region. Music, and team-mates' perceived lack of taste in it, provoked a rare show of disunity within a squad that has thrived on the close bond between the players.

"Our players are great and they showed their strong will and skill," said Leonid Slutski as he reflected on the point his side took home from Marseille, but once the elation has died down and training starts again on Sunday evening, the coach will know there is room for improvement looking ahead towards Wednesday's encounter with Slovakia in Lille.

Forward Dzyuba found the going tough and was isolated for long periods, while Fedor Smolov and Aleksandr Kokorin also drifted in and out of the game. "Our defence was well organised today but not everything worked in attack - we were a bit disjointed," Dzyuba said. "A lot of balls got kicked out of play. But it was the first game and it was a difficult one. At times we held on to the ball really well. I think if we add 20-30% in attack there will be more goals and we'll create more chances.", 12 June 2016

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