Raheem Sterling was England’s Wembley match-winner once again as his early header earned a 1-0 victory over Czech Republic, sealing top spot in Group D and setting up a last-16 tie next Tuesday with the runners-up of the pool containing France, Germany, Portugal and Hungary.
Local lad Sterling (12) made the difference against Croatia in England’s opening match of Euro 2020 and he doubled his tally for the tournament with a close-range header from Jack Grealish’s excellent cross, after earlier hitting the post inside two minutes.
England were without Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell, who had been forced to isolate after Scotland’s Billy Gilmour tested positive for coronavirus, but played with an attacking freedom in the first half which had been missing from their first two group games, with 19-year-old Bukayo Saka a standout performer on his first start of the competition, and Harry Kane denied by a good save.
Czech Republic gave as good as they got, with Tomas Holes forcing Jordan Pickford into a good stop and Tomas Soucek shooting wastefully wide, and the visitors controlled possession for long periods in the second half, with sub Tomas Pekhart dragging a shot just wide late on.
England had a Jordan Henderson goal ruled out for offside in the closing moments but at the other end they held firm, recording three clean sheets in a major tournament group stage for the first time since the 1966 World Cup.
They now turn their attentions to what will surely be a far stiffer examination from one of Europe’s heavyweights back at Wembley next week.
As for Czech Republic, they ultimately go through in third, with Croatia grabbing second spot with a 3-1 win over Scotland at Hampden Park.
Czech Republic: Vaclik (7), Celustka (6), Coufal (7), Kalas (7), Boril (6), Darida (6), Holes (6), Masopust (6), Jankto (6), Soucek (7), Schick (5).
Subs: Sevcik (6), Kral (6), Hlozek (6), Pekhart (6), Vydra (N/A)
England: Pickford (8), Walker (6), Stones (7), Maguire (8), Shaw (6), Rice (5), Phillips (5), Saka (8), Grealish (7), Sterling (7), Kane (6).
Subs: Henderson (6), Rashford (6), Bellingham (N/A), Mings (N/A), Sancho (N/A)
Man of the Match: Bukayo Saka (England)
How England won Group D…
With England already assured of a knockout spot, Gareth Southgate had said before kick-off “it’s a great night for our attacking players to go and express themselves” and they certainly did that, with Sterling hitting a post after just two minutes with a chipped shot after racing onto a lofted pass from Luke Shaw.
Sterling had his head in his hands – but he didn’t have to wait long to put the ball in the net.
Saka, something of a surprise inclusion from Southgate, burst from midfield and beat a couple of Czech players before crossing to the back post. Grealish, looking to shine in place of Mount, picked it up on that left flank and after some trickery lofted an inviting ball into the six-yard box for Sterling to head in from three yards. It was his 14th goal in his last 19 internationals.
Czech Republic responded well, with Lukas Masopust causing problems for England, but the visitors were carved open again on 26 minutes when fit-again Harry Maguire slid a brilliant pass into Kane – but the England captain was denied by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik when he cut back on his right to shoot.
Czech Republic were unchanged from their draw with Croatia.
With Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount isolating and unavailable, England made four changes for their final group game. Kyle Walker replaced Reece James at right-back, Jack Grealish took Mount’s spot, Bukayo Saka came in for Phil Foden and Harry Maguire was back in defence in place of Tyrone Mings. Foden, who was on a booking, was left out of the squad.
There was sharp goalkeeping at the other end, too, with Pickford at full stretch to push away Holes’ drive from distance, before John Stones made an important block.
Czech Republic then passed up a glorious chance to level on 35 minutes, with Soucek shooting wide after Shaw had bravely blocked from Jakub Jankto, as both sides played with the handbrake off in an end-to-end first half.
With Maguire impressing at the back on his return to the side, Henderson was sent on for Declan Rice at half-time to build up his game-time ahead of the knockouts but a lot of his early work was done without the ball, as Czech Republic controlled possession at the start of the second half.
England struggled to find the impetus they had in the opening 45, and their supporters loudest cheers were when Scotland’s latest score with Croatia was put on the big screen.
But despite their drop-off, England were able to keep Czech Republic at bay and thought they should have had a penalty when Maguire hit the deck from an attacking free-kick, but the ref ruled there was no foul from Jan Boril, who was on a booking at the time.
Jude Bellingham and Marcus Rashford were sent on to add some spark and the 17-year-old was immediately into the action, although he had to settle for a corner after being fed in the box by Maguire, who had surged forward.
England finally gained the upper hand once again – although Pekhart gave them a scare with eight minutes to play with a shot just off target – and the hosts thought they’d got the clinching second goal when Henderson hit the net, but the offside flag cut short the celebrations.
England’s players and the Wembley crowd were celebrating soon after, though, with the final whistle closing out a successful group stage campaign which sends England into the last-16 unbeaten, upbeat but with a big challenge to overcome.
What the manager said…
England boss Gareth Southgate to ITV: “We started really well. We were stable with the ball. We had worked on some of the stuff in training yesterday and actually – credit to the players – some things we had to adjust without the ball today. We changed what we were doing overnight because of the different personnel so it is a huge credit to the players that they were as stable as they were.
“We have been super impressed with Bukayo throughout the whole month. He was excellent up at Middlesbrough and we really like him with and without the ball. Tonight, his receiving under pressure was fantastic.
“I think the Czechs are a really good side. They use the ball very well and they are difficult to break down. I think there is more to come from us, definitely. We have not scored from a set play yet. I know people laughed about us only scoring from set plays but they are crucial in big matches so we have to get those nailed. We are not fluent but we have moments where we are looking a good side.
“There are a lot of good things we are doing. We have managed to get most of the squad into the games. Ninety minutes for Harry Maguire tonight, which was important. Forty-five for Hendo, which was a real step forward. So, a lot of positives for us.”
‘Job done and don’t be surprised if we go to five at the back’
Gary Neville talking to ITV:
“Job done, really professional. I will say it again, I don’t think England are going to win this tournament by outplaying France, Germany, Portugal, Spain.
“I don’t think we have the players to do that, I think we have good players, but I genuinely think we are going to win it by playing how are we are now, which is professional, keeping clean sheets, making sure that back is protected with those two lads in midfield.
“And then creating those individual moments of brilliance and we have got some players who can achieve that for us.
“Don’t be surprised if we play Germany or France we go to five at the back because I think we may need more than four defenders against [Kylian] Mbappe, [Antoine] Griezmann and [Karim] Benzema.
“If you are playing against Germany we can comfortably go to wing backs, I don’t rule anything out at this stage but I can’t see that Gareth [Southgate] will play the same way against the Czech Republic as he would against France or Germany.”
‘Lots of plusses for efficient England’
Roy Keane talking to ITV:
“They have been very efficient. Second half England did not have to be great, I was really disappointed with the Czech Republic’s mentality to try and score a goal.
“But the bottom line is at this level, it is all about winning football matches, it is job done.
“Of course it is going to get tougher, the players know that, but the big plusses for Gareth tonight are another clean sheet, Maguire has had 90 minutes, Henderson has had 45.
“Gareth will be delighted.”
Opta stats – shot shy England get the job done
- England have topped their group at a European Championships for only the third time, also doing so at Euro 1996 and Euro 2012. With just two goals scored, they are the lowest scoring side to ever finish top of a group at a Euros tournament.
- England have kept 15 clean sheets in their last 19 matches in all competitions, conceding only five goals. They have gone through a group stage at a major tournament without conceding for only the third time, also doing so at the 1966 World Cup and in the second group stage at the 1982 World Cup.
- Since his England debut last September, Jack Grealish has more assists than any other England player (3), despite only playing in nine of the Three Lions’ 15 matches since then.
- Tomas Pekhart’s effort at goal in the 83rd minute for the Czech Republic was the first shot in the second half, the longest wait for a shot in the second half of a European Championships match (since 1980).
- England failed to attempt a single shot at goal in the second half of a match for the first time since October 2018 against Spain in a UEFA Nations League match. Their last effort at goal was a Harry Kane attempt in the 26th minute.
- Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in 20 goals in his last 19 matches for England (14 goals, 6 assists) and has ended on the winning side in all 12 matches when finding the net for the national team.
Finishing top of Group D means England will next play on Tuesday, June 29 at 5pm at Wembley against the runners-up of Group F (either Portugal, France, Germany or Hungary).