Opening their European adventure at Wembley on Sunday afternoon, England managed to get their Group D campaign off to a flying start thanks to a 1-0 win against Croatia in front of 22,500 fans.
Flying out the blocks in the opening 20 minutes and backed by a noisy home support, The Three Lions remarkably secured their first-ever opening victory at the European Championships after Raheem Sterling finished well 10 minutes after the restart.
Despite failing to lay down much of a marker in their back-to-back 1-0 friendly wins against Romania and Austria last week, Gareth Southgate’s side were more than deserving of their victory on Sunday and were asked few questions by a sluggish Croatia.
Gaining the perfect momentum before their mouthwatering all-British showdown against Scotland on Friday, we have taken a look at the major talking points after England’s opener in the capital.
Southgate gets it right
Before England even kicked off their Group D opener on Sunday afternoon, Gareth Southgate would have known that his selected starting XI would have raised plenty of eyebrows both from fans at home and abroad.
With both Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho not even making The Lions’ 23-man matchday squad, Southgate’s decision to start Kieran Trippier at left-back and an out-of-form Raheem Sterling ahead of Jack Grealish could have seen him come under real scrutiny.
However, with the Manchester City winger finishing well after a great through ball from Man of the Match contender Kalvin Phillips, Sterling proved to be a constant menace to Croatia’s defence and put in arguably his performance of the season.
A hometown boy who was also awarded an MBE last week, Southgate has always demonstrated his trust in the one-time Liverpool starlet and Sterling could have doubled his tally after he blazed over following Tyrone Mings’ knockdown with 15 minutes to go.
With Phillips forming an eye-catching partnership with Declan Rice in the middle of midfield and Trippier leaving Wembley with England’s sixth clean sheet in their last seven appearances, there is no doubting that Southgate got it right on Sunday afternoon.
A quiet afternoon for Kane
While the England boss would have undoubtedly been hugely excited by his side’s overall performance in the capital, Southgate would have been hoping that his skipper could have opened his campaign with a flurry.
However, despite heading into this summer’s delayed European Championships on a run of form that saw the Tottenham marksman lift the Premier League’s Golden Boot this season, it was an extremely quiet afternoon for Harry Kane.
Leading the Three Lions out at Wembley, the 27-year-old cut an isolated figure up top and often found himself dropping deeper and deeper as he failed to get much change out of either Duje Ćaleta-Car or Domagoj Vida.
With many wondering how Kane would cope with the ongoing situation regarding a potential move away from Tottenham this summer, the skipper’s only chance came after 60 minutes when he pocked wide and ended up colliding with Dominik Livaković’s post.
Replaced by Borussia Dortmund starlet Jude Bellingham with eight minutes remaining, the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner will be desperate to play a more pivotal role against The Tartan Army next weekend.
Croatia’s attacking issues
Signing off last week’s preparations with a 1-0 defeat away in Belgium, Croatia put in another toothless display at Wembley as they failed to replicate their success against England from three years ago in the World Cup semi-finals.
Heavily pinned back in the opening 20 minutes and with attacking talisman Ivan Perišić often having to fill in as a second-left back for large spells, The Blazers underlined how much they have regressed since their performances out in Russia.
Opening their Group D campaign on a run of form that had seen them win just a pair of their last nine matchups across all formats, Zlatko Dalić’s side couldn’t ask any questions of an inexperienced Tyrone Mings and didn’t muster a single shot on target in the first-half.
Really failing to fill the void since former marksman Mario Mandžukić announced his international retirement after Croatia’s defeat against France three years ago, Kockasti will be disappointed at how unscathed they left Jordan Pickford’s goal.
With Ante Rebić’s sliced effort sailing comfortably over the top in what was the only half chance that Croatia managed to create with 25 minutes to go, improvements are certainly needed ahead of their meeting against the Czech Republic next weekend.
England: Pickford (7), Walker (5), Stones (7), Mings (7.5), Trippier (7.5), Rice (7.5), Phillips (8.5), Mount (7.5), Foden (6.5), Kane (6), Sterling (8.5)
Subs: Rashford (6.5), Bellingham (6.5), Calvert-Lewin (5)
Croatia: Livakovic (6), Vrsaljko (6), Vida (6.5), Caleta-Car (7), Gvardiol (6), Modric (6.5), Brozovic (4), Kovacic (6), Kramaric (6), Rebic (5), Perisic (5)
Subs: Vlasic (5.5), Pasalic (5.5), Brekalo (6), Petkovic (5)
Goals: Sterling 57′
Yellows Cards: England: Foden – Croatia: Caleta-Car, Brozovic, Kovacic
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Daniele Orsato
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