In beating Croatia, England finally managed to win an opening game at a Euro finals, at the 10th attempt but the opposition was so bad it still means Southgate hasn’t beaten a decent side at a tournament.
Southgate has lost to every decent side he’s faced in tournament finals. Three times in the last World Cup – Belgium twice and Croatia – once in the League of Nations – the Dutch. He still hasn’t beaten a decent team, this Croatia isn’t the one that ran rings around England in the World Cup semi-final.
Luka Modric said before the game that arrogance comes with this England team, not from the player but those on the outside, the media and pundits.
And boy was he right. Just look at the reaction to this victory. A victory over the worst Croatia side you’ve seen. A Croatia side that weren’t in the game but managed to match England in all aspects apart from one scruffily finished goal. Shots on and off target both the same… the latter being the laughable 2 each.
But Southgate got everything right apparently. Hmmm, no. He got Kalvin Phillips right but that was forced on him, slightly fitter Henderson and you know the man-of-the-match wouldn’t get a game.
Sterling did one thing. And he almost buggered that up. The deflection off the defender helping it past the keeper. Did Sterling justify his place asked the BBC, apparently. Well for the rest of the game no.
It had looked at the beginning like Southgate had got one call right as England played the ball forward far quicker than previously. But as soon as the ball got up front quickly it slowed down as Sterling, Mount, Foden, stopped and slowed everything up. It wasn’t long until they then stopped the quick ball and it was back to the fannying about passing and not long until Kane was dropping deep.
Of course he started getting abuse due to this from the pundits that just gloss over the fact that Sterling would do anything rather than pass Kane the ball in a good position. Another thing Southgate got wrong leads to this. Look at the cross that Alaba put in for one of Austria’s goals later in the day. When does Kane get a ball like that? Well he wouldn’t with this team that Southgate got “completely right”.
Sterling cuts in leaving space but Trippier isn’t going to overlap and stick a cross in because he’s on the wrong side and doesn’t want to kick it with his left foot. Mount and Foden are always cutting in. While on the other side Walker never got forward at all. Another thing Southgate got wrong.
Walker’s only contribution was a few comedy moments. Running a cross the pitch before just giving up and passing the ball out for a throw. Then looking around, with that dopy pigeon look on his face, for someone to blame. He followed this with another ball straight into touch, this time for a goal-kick. His defensive masterclass amounted to totally discombobulating a Croatian player by falling over.
Not that that situation would have led to anything. The Croat fullbacks got forward, far more than England’s, but absolutely hopeless with their delivery. Don’t know if they actually had anyone worthwhile to aim for but they generally found no one anyway.
Added to that Perisic was atrocious. He never looked like doing anything with the ball. With Modric dropping deeper and deeper, England cramming the middle of the park, nothing out wide, Croatia looked clueless.
While that one thing Southgate got right, Kalvin Phillips was running things. Playing the passes, making the tackles and making the clever fouls. A number of fouls but he made the challenges in such a way that was clever, looked like he was going for the ball, even when he wasn’t.
And with all that the pundits go into overblown mode, for the manager and certain players – just like Modric said.
One wonders what Harry Kane will do at the end of this tournament, ask for a change of nationality because at this rate he isn’t even going to achieve personal honours never mind team honours.