Raheem Sterling was the match-winner and it was actually the Manchester City winger’s first goal at a major tournament after several attempts. For England, though, the win over Croatia was significant, as they had never won their opening game at any European Championship finals.
This was not a vintage performance from the Three Lions. However, they were still very impressive in how they contained Luka Modric and Co. for 90 minutes, restricting them to very few chances.
England silence their critics
Ahead of the game, Croatia captain Modric had suggested that the English media were “arrogant” in their evaluation of Gareth Southgate’s side.
However, by the time the match was over, it was evident why no one can underestimate his England team. This is a side that has no weaknesses and is stocked with quality in all positions.
From goalkeepers to defenders to midfielders and forwards, the Three Lions have at least two great players competing for each position.
They made their quality count during Sunday’s game against Croatia. Not only did they dominate for large spells of the game, but they were also in complete control from start to finish.
Croatia were bamboozled and their midfield trio of Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, were thwarted by Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in the middle of the park.
Southgate’s cautious approach pays off
The England coach’s decision to play two defensive midfielders raised eyebrows when the line-up was announced, but it ultimately paid off. Southgate is not a fan of expansive football and, despite the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, he is usually pragmatic and adopts a cautious approach.
Against Croatia, though, his tactics worked perfectly, with the deployment of Phillips, particularly, being a shrewd move that proved key in the midfield duel.
“We just focused on what this team is about. It’s for everyone else to get excited and throw their beer around. It’s brilliant to give joy to people but we’re preparing for a really tough game on Friday,” said England manager Gareth Southgate, as quoted by the Guardian.
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“This is the big challenge now. It’s a positive step in terms of qualification but one of the hardest things in sport is to come back to where you were before the game. You can get a bit soft so we have to make sure we’re ready for an incredible game against Scotland," added Southgate.
This was a professional performance from the Three Lions and Southgate deserves immense credit for the result.