Raheem Sterling’s second goal of Euro 2020 saw England beat the Czech Republic to win Group D and rack up a last-16 draw against France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary at Wembley.
In a performance that turned into a slog after a bright start, Sterling converted the far post 12 minutes into a cross from Jack Grealish after some good work by Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka.
Grealish and Saka were two of the hosts’ better performers one night when England went to work like a craftsman and had to do without Mason Mount, who had placed himself in self-isolation after coming into close contact with Scottish Billy Gilmour after the second group match.
Southgate also had the bonus of Manchester United captain Harry Maguire who safely completed 90 minutes in his first game since suffering an ankle injury in early May.
Captain Harry Kane is still looking for his first goal of Euro 2020, although he was denied by a first-half save from goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik. On the other hand, Jordan Pickford was rarely threatened, although on a night when England got the job done, he delivered a fine diving save from Tomas Holes in the first half – although a bigger test than this one now lies ahead.
That comes in the form of the runner-up in Group F at Wembley on Tuesday 29 June (5pm BST). The final matches of Group F will take place on Wednesday, with Germany taking on Hungary and Portugal against France (both at 8pm BST).
Grealish and Saka shining lights Mount’s forced absence created a gap behind England captain Kane and, with Phil Foden left out, gave a big chance to Villa captain Grealish and Arsenal’s 19-year-old Saka.
And while neither can see themselves as a guaranteed place when the knockout stages begin, both can be very happy with the impact they made as England opened vigorously before losing momentum.
It was perfectly illustrated by the decisive moment in what turned into a war of attrition as Saka drove to the Czech defense with positive intent before Grealish delivered an inch-perfect cross to the far post for Sterling to score and cement his status as the only English player. preserve.
to score in the tournament so far after his winner against Croatia. Grealish was a popular choice, his name being cheered by England fans when it was announced, and he delivered a lively first half performance in which he posed a constant threat, demanded the ball and always tried to cause trouble for the Czech Republic. defense.
This was a big opportunity, and perhaps a surprise one, for Saka, but this gifted teen took the man of the match honors and looked perfect on this elevated podium.
It remains to be seen if they have done enough to work their way into Southgate’s starting lineup for the last 16, but they have certainly given the England manager food for thought.
Now things are getting serious for England.
England have barely lit Euro 2020 so far with their three Wembley performances, but they can happily point to seven points from three games without conceding a goal.
Everton goalkeeper Pickford has maintained excellent form all along, while the sight of Maguire making it through this first test after a long absence will have delighted his manager, who considers him one of his most trusted and important leaders.
In addition to his defensive skills, Maguire adds another dimension to England’s game with his ability to get out of defense and pick a pass, as he demonstrated with an excellent throw to create Kane’s first half chance.
Kane’s lack of goals remains a concern, although there has been no shortage of commitment. Southgate has fully supported his striker and he hopes he saves his best for the sharp end of Euro 2020.
Sterling is another Southgate has shown great confidence in and it was again rewarded with a goal and performance that earned him an ovation when he was replaced.
In many parts this was a lackluster England display after they started on the front foot, but the results have been delivered in a way that Southgate and its players would have happily settled for the start of Euro 2020.
Now the real test is likely to come. in the form of world champion France, defender of European champion Portugal or the always dangerous Germany. England will have to improve, but they have done what was necessary until now.