LONDON, June 23: England delivered an efficient but hardly scintillating display to beat Czech Republic 1-0 with an early Raheem Sterling header on Tuesday to advance to Euro 2020’s last-16 as Group D winners, with the Czechs through as one of the best third-placed teams.
Sterling scored his and England’s second goal of the tournament in the 12th minute but the initial injection of pace, intensity and crowd-pleasing excitement brought by Jack Grealish and teenage man of the match Bukayo Saka gradually dissipated as the game petered out into an utterly forgettable second half.
Neither side will mind though as they now begin to plot their assaults on the knockout phase.
England return to Wembley on Tuesday to face the runners-up from Group E – likely to be France, Germany or Portugal – while the Czechs must wait to find out which group winner they play.
They were dislodged from second place by Croatia, who beat Scotland 3-1 and will play the Group E runners-up – Sweden, Slovakia, Spain or Poland – in Copenhagen on Monday.
On the positive side of England’s balance sheet is two wins and a draw, three clean sheets, a return to Wembley and a good number of players getting a taste of the action.
Conversely, they have scored only two goals – the lowest by any team ever to top a Euros group – were sluggish and over-cautious for long periods of all three games and the midfield combination and approach seemingly remain anything but settled. They also face a potentially daunting last 16 game next. “We are not fluent but we have moments where we look a good side,” said England coach Gareth Southgate.
“The Czechs are a really good side. They use the ball well and are really tough to break down. There is more to come from us, definitely. We have not scored from a set play yet. They are crucial in big matches and we have to get those nailed.
“All of our next opponents will be different games but there are a lot of good things we are doing.”
Sterling was at the sharp end of England’s early attacks as they began full of energy. He struck a post in the second minute when he lifted the ball past advancing keeper Tomas Vaclik – the third time England had hit a post of the same goal early in each match.
Ten minutes later Sterling found the target with a close-range header from a delicious floated cross by Grealish after a driving run by Saka had splintered the Czech rearguard.
Making his first appearance of the tournament, the 19-year-old wide man showed a willingness to run with the ball that was painfully absent from England’s first two performances and, with Grealish a constant menace, the hosts looked more threatening.
Harry Kane looked sharper too and had a shot well saved late in the first half by Vaclik, but that early promise was gradually replaced by the all-too-familiar caution and England barely mustered another meaningful attempt.
The Czechs were neat and tidy without carrying a huge amount of penalty box threat, though Tomas Holes had a shot palmed clear by Jordan Pickford and Tomas Soucek fired just wide in the first half.
Substitute Jordan Henderson thought he had scored his first goal for England on his 60th appearance five minutes from time after a scramble, only to see it ruled out for offside.
Overall though it was desperately thin gruel for most of the second half, with the loudest cheers reserved for the big screen announcements of Croatia’s goals that eliminated Scotland.
Classy Luka Modric fires Croatia into Euro knockouts as Scotland exit
Luka Modric curled home a magnificent finish as Croatia shrugged off a slow start to Euro 2020 to beat Scotland 3-1 on Tuesday and reach the last-16 in style, while leaving their opponents again on the tournament scrap-heap.
Nikola Vlasic and Ivan Perisic were also on target for Croatia in a victory that lifted Zlatko Dalic’s side, so leggy and unconvincing in their first two games, up to second in Group D on four points.
They finished ahead, on goals scored, of the Czech Republic, who lost 1-0 to group winners England. Croatia next face the runner-up of Group E – where Sweden, Slovakia, Spain and Poland are all still jockeying for position – in Copenhagen on June 28.
Scotland, who scored their only goal of the tournament through Callum McGregor, finished bottom of the pile on one point, falling to earth with a thump after their positive performance against England at Wembley lifted hopes of reaching the knockouts of a major tournament for the first time.
Modric’s form had been called into question at the tournament, but the 35-year-old shaped a delightful finish into the corner of the net with the outside of his foot in the second half to make it 2-1, sending his side on to a thoroughly deserved victory.
Deprived of Billy Gilmour, who failed a COVID-19 test in the buildup, Scotland seemed lacking in midfield and Croatia bossed the ball, dominating possession for large periods before deservedly taking the lead after 17 minutes as Vlasic scored his sixth goal for his country.
NO KNOCKOUTS AGAIN FOR SCOTLAND
There seemed little danger when a cross from the right floated towards the far post but Perisic towered above his marker to head down for Vlasic to swivel and finish low into bottom corner.
The goal drained the life out of Hampden Park and Scotland’s fortunes did not look like improving as Croatia stroked passes around the pitch, but just as the World Cup finalists seemed likely to turn the screw further, Steve Clarke’s side struck back.
As the clocked ticked towards halftime, Croatia failed to clear a cross from the left and it fell at the feet of McGregor just outside the box.
He took a touch and drilled the ball low into the bottom corner to score his first goal for his country, and Scotland’s first in any major tournament for 23 years, breathing life back into the home crowd.
Having dragged themselves back into the match Scotland almost fell behind again at the start of the second half but Josko Gvardiol let his first touch get away from him when one-on-one with Scotland keeper David Marshall and a superb chance went begging.
The reprieve did not last long.
Scotland’s John McGinn wasted a great chance when he failed to get a proper connection on the ball from less than a metre out at the far post and that was punished at the other end by Modric’s moment of inspiration.
Croatia worked the ball nicely around the box before teeing up Modric from 20 metres and he shaped the ball delicately with the outside of his foot into the far corner to restore Croatia’s lead after 62 minutes.
Perisic applied the coup de grace in the 77th minute, sending a glancing header from a corner into the net, ensuring that Scotland’s dreadful run of never making the knockouts at a major tournament in 11 attempts continued. (Reuters)