Saturday, July 13, 2024

Serbia 0-1 England: Talking points as Three Lions start Euro 2024 with narrow but important win

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England started their Eur0 2024 adventure with a narrow triumph over Serbia in Group C at Schalke’s Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, the only goal of the game being the work of Jude Bellingham in the 13th minute.

The teams

England boss Gareth Southgate deployed his men in a  4-2-3-1 shape, with Jordan Pickford in goal, the pair of John Stones and Marc Guehi in the heart of defence, Kieran Trippier on the left and Kyle Walker on the right. Trent Alexander-Arnold paired up with Declan Rice in midfield, while captain Harry Kane, as the main attacking focal point, had the trio of Phil Foden, Bellingham and Bukayo Saka in support.

Dragan Stojkovic, on the other hand, chose a back three of Milos Veljkovic, Nikola Milenkovic and Strahinja Pavlovic. In the middle of the park, Nemanja Gudelj and Sasa Lukic were flanked by Filip Kostic and Andrija Zivkovic. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was slightly further up, before the attacking duo of Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The game

The opening 15-20 minutes belonged to England completely, as Serbia appeared unable to do practically anything but hang on with a deep block. The Eagles simply couldn’t hold on to the ball and get forward, and it became obvious they would crumble under the pressure sooner or later.

The goal came with just over 12 minutes gone, when Saka got behind Kostic on England’s right and with plenty of luck, sent the ball into the box where Bellingham displayed his knack for smart movement and aerial ability to head past Rajkovic in the Serbia goal.

But with perhaps a quarter of the game gone, Stojkovic’s team got a lot more into the contest and started spending plenty of time in England’s half. Still, they were unable to create much, and the only chance they had was a powerful effort by Mitrovic that whizzed just wide of the post having forced Pickford into a full stretch. Stojkovic was forced to make his first change of the match two minutes before the 45 were up as Kostic pulled up with an injury, but Filip Mladenovic, who came on to replace the Juventus wing-back, only raised his team’s game further.

The Serbs got into the second half with the same energy and determination and for long spells appeared more likely to equalize than concede a second goal, but the best chance of the period still came at the other end as Kane got the better of Veljkovic in the air, before seeing his header tipped onto the bar by Rajkovic.

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Serbia, on the other hand, got closest through Vlahovic, whose curler from just outside the box was tipped over by Pickford with some difficulty.

Apart from Bellingham as the goalscorer, whose all-round performance was excellent, Rice and the two centre-backs also did their jobs impeccably and are mostly the players whose presence on the pitch kept Serbia at bay.

Stojkovic unsurprisingly tried to change a few things upfront after an hour, withdrawing Mitrovic and Lukic to send on Dusan Tadic and Luka Jovic. With just over 15 minutes left, he also sent on Veljko Birmancevic instead of a tired-looking Zivkovic on the right flank, but his team still arguably lacked a quality final pass to really trouble the England defence. Instead, they mostly resorted to crosses from wide positions, but in the absence of Mitrovic, Stones and Guehi dealt with those attempts without major problems.

Later on, Southgate swapped the creativity of Alexander-Arnold for the work-rate of Conor Gallagher, and freshened up his ranks by sending on Jarrod Bowen instead of Saka and with less than five minutes remaining, Kobbie Mainoo instead of Bellingham.

In the end, England merely saw the game out and their win can be described as deserved, but only due to the domination they displayed early on and the experience they made use of towards the end.

Looking ahead

Be that as it may, England’s start to the tournament was obviously successful, with three points placing them at the top of the group after the opening round, following a 1-1 draw between Slovenia and Denmark earlier on the same day.

The levels Southgate’s men showed should be enough to see them win the group, but come the knockout stages, they will have to do a lot more to justify their status as one of the favourites for the European crown. But first, they must get the better of Denmark on June 20th, as well as Slovenia five days later.

As for Serbia, they probably didn’t expect to get much, or anything at all, from this game, but they can still hold their heads high and move into the next round with renewed confidence. After an abysmal start, they raised their game greatly and felt they can actually play against England, and providing they can show consistency as well, they will be optimistic about their chances to progress into the knockout stage. For them, of course, it’s Slovenia next, before the clash with Denmark. Those matches will be a lot more important from their point of view.

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Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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