England 1-0 Croatia
Has he picked the right team – Are England over-hyped – Do we possess the mental strength?
Of course, everyone with so much as a flickering interest will have their opinion. We did ahead of the last England match, we will ahead of the Scotland game at Wembley on Friday,. But for the time being, this one is put to bed – One-Nil – Three points against a tricky opponent – little to gripe about.
Raheem Sterling’s selection again came under scrutiny. To be honest, I’ve often wondered why. Despite an indifferent campaign at Manchester City, there is very little to gripe about. The 26-year-olds winner was his fifteenth goal in 62 appearances for England – a stat not to be sniffed at from an attacking midfielder. Perhaps the resentfulness is down to something else? Either way and despite the adage that everyone is entitled to an opinion it is completely unwarranted and doesn’t stand up in any argument, particularly where the national team are concerned.
Sterling’s goal, just before the hour, was provided by Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips. Personally, I still had questions over the combative midfielders selection. He answered them all with a mature, exciting display, complimented by Phil Foden and Mason Mount who together appeared at ease with the scenario of tournament football, and indeed, on this evidence, thrived on it.
Scotland and the Czech Republic will offer a different challenge, but a significant weight has been lifted with this victory, sentiment echoed by boss Southgate: “The performance was really good,” he told BBC Sport.
“It was a big occasion, a sweltering hot day and the players settled really quickly, used the ball well and we limited Croatia to very few clear chances throughout the game.
“They are a good opponent who we have huge respect for and we know so much about so I couldn’t be happier with not just the players that started but those who came in and the whole group for the way they prepared for this game.”
Southgate added; “Firstly, it’s a lovely day for the English public. We’ve waited a long time for the beer gardens to open and I’m sure they’re throwing it everywhere as well as drinking it which is lovely!
“But for us, it relieves some tension. You know if you don’t win the first game, the pressure ramps up. But we have two really difficult games left in this group and we’re a good step forward today but important steps to go to qualify.”
England: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Mings, Trippier, Phillips, Rice, Foden (Rashford 71’), Mount, Sterling (Calvert-Lewin 90+2’), Kane (Bellingham 82’) Subs not used: Shaw, Grealish, Henderson, Henderson, Coady, White, Johnstone, James, Saka
Croatia: Livakovic, Vrsaljko, Vida, Caleta-Car, Gvardiol, Modric, Brozovic (Vlasic 70’), Kovacic (Pasalic 85’), Kramaric (Brekalo 70’), Rebic (Petkovic 78’), Perisic Subs not used: L Kalinic, Budimir, Skoric, Badelj, Juranovic, Sluga, Bradaric, Ivanusec
Referee: Daniele Orsato