England kicked off their Euro 2020 campaign with a 1-0 win over Croatia, in what was a rematch of the 2018 World Cup semi-final.
The Three Lions came into the game having never won the opening game of a European Championship, and were handed a tricky task in their opening fixture of Group D against an experienced Croatian side.
England started the game brightly and were far the better side in the opening exchanges, the pick of the chances dropping to Man City star, Phil Foden. The 20-year-old – fresh with his Paul Gascoigne-esque blonde trim – received the ball down the right, cut onto his favoured left-foot and shaped an effort towards the far post only to see it come back off the upright.
Kalvin Phillips also saw an effort from the edge of the box saved as the hosts continued to enjoy the better of the early play, with Gareth Southgate’s side pressing high up the field and dominating possession.
On what was a hot afternoon at Wembley, the early pace of the game dwindled as Croatia started to see a bit more of the ball, with Luka Modric looking to dictate play in the middle of the park.
The second half started much in the way that the first half had ended, but 10 minutes after the restart the goalscoring was opened somewhat out of nothing. The impressive Phillips broke out of midfield to get on the ball, cut onto his left, before playing a well-weighted pass into Raheem Sterling who had got himself into the box before firing past Dominik Livakovic.
The stats for the game were virtually identical, but in truth, Croatia rarely looked like scoring with Jordan Pickford largely untroubled throughout the game.
Speaking after the game, England boss Gareth Southgate was delighted with his side’s display and how they ‘dealt with the occasion’.
“It’s lovely to give our fans and our country a really enjoyable afternoon,” he told the BBC. “I thought the players dealt with the big occasion really well. Right from the start, incredible heat. They settled early in the game.
That pass from Kalvin Phillips 😍
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) June 13, 2021
“There were moments when the tempo dropped due to the heat, but overall we were in control, we didn’t give them many opportunities, and we looked dangerous.”
The former defender hailed the performance of Kalvin Phillips for his ‘immense’ display before expressing his delight for Raheem Sterling, whose match-winning goal was his first strike at a major tournament.
“Kalvin is a player who is so understated,” he said. “He has had a fantastic start to his international career and I thought he was immense throughout the game, as they all were.
“I’m so pleased for Raheem. He’s had this hex, if you like, in the tournaments, not being able to get the goal. I thought he was dangerous all day right from the start. I’m really pleased for all of them.
“He’s a good player. His goal scoring record suggests that we should have faith with him. I think he was motivated to show that. I think that for him and for everybody, we know that we are going to need that depth and all of those attacking players. We will need those through the tournament. We can make changes and we will need to.”
Asked about the performance of his defence which was without Harry Maguire, Southgate said: “I thought they coped very well.
“I think with Croatia, the key is to get pressure on their midfield players and we managed to do that and limit some of the supply. But the back players dealt with the longer balls well, were composed with their build-up, so it was a day where everybody that got onto the pitch performed well, and that was set up by the whole group.
“The players that weren’t involved put aside their disappointment, they put it to one side, we are going to need that in the next four weeks.”
Next up for England is a much-anticipated home nations tie against Scotland on Friday evening before a game against the Czech Republic the following Tuesday.
“This is a tough group. Scotland and the Czech’s are good sides. You want to get off to a good start because it takes some of the preparation out of the next game, but you’ve still got to get points to qualify and that is our objective.”
See also – Five of the best players from Euro 2000