WEDNESDAY’S BIG STORIES
Southgate's pragmatism well-founded
England beat the Czech Republic 1-0 on Tuesday. The Three Lions' usually pragmatic-by-nature manager, Gareth Southgate, had sent his side out with a more attacking brief for their final group stage match This was evident in the positioning of his full-backs - Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw - who were given far more freedom to push on.
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It bore early fruit with Raheem Sterling scoring what turned out to be the winner on 12 minutes. However, the third game of their tournament - certainly in the first half - felt like the match which England exerted the least control over, with the Czech midfield getting behind the Three Lions' two of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice on numerous occasions.
Granted, both Scotland and Croatia gave England problems in the other two group game matches, but that was more a function of their astuteness rather than any laxness on England's behalf. The sights of goal the Czech Republic were afforded on Tuesday were less a result of their excellence, and more down to a lack of control from the home side.
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Southgate reverted to type and addressed the issue at half-time. He introduced Jordan Henderson for Rice and England were less expressive going forward, and less pleasing on the eye. However, they exerted more control. Their performance in the second half was, in fact, in many ways reminiscent of their showing against Scotland - they had lots of the ball but without really threatening. The difference here being they had a goal advantage.
So, did England play well? That depends on how 'well' is measured. They were more entertaining and threatening in the first half than the second but exerted more control - if creating less - following the half-time changes. Thus, England can, paradoxically, manage games well, and appear to play badly. But that doesn't matter.
International football is a more results-orientated operation than domestic competition, and that's down to frequency of opportunity. National teams have seven or so games every two years to win something. Results matter, performances don't. It is pragmatism that has tended to win tournament football. France were pragmatic at the World Cup in 2018, Portugal the same in 2016, Germany too in 2014 and Spain were often accused of sterile domination during their period of success.
England are a front loaded team but, empirically, it is pragmatism that has won at international football. Southgate has, is and probably always will be a pragmatic manager. He was pragmatic at the World Cup in 2018 and he has been pragmatic at the Euros. The Three Lions finished a tricky enough group unbeaten and having conceded the sum total of zero goals. The cold, hard stats are impressive. Are the performances? It doesn't matter.
Reaction from England fans as Southgate's side beat Czech Republic
Roy Keane misses the point but has a point
Roy Keane went full Roy Keane on the Ben Chilwell, Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour Covid self-isolation situation.
Here is what he had to say:
The only thing I'd be critical of is why would you want to speak to an opposition player - and I don't care if he's your team-mate - for over 20 minutes? I very rarely speak to anyone for over five minutes. After a game when you've just went to war with somebody, why would you want to chat to somebody for that long? They could've used more common sense.
Usual Keane stuff about war and all that. However, there is a pertinent point in there somewhere in these Covid times - and that is the last line about common sense. Surely England should have been enforcing a strict Covid-secure bubble?
Contrary to Keane's point, it is fine to have friends, but chatting in an enclosed environment to a friend outside your bubble is inadvisable during a pandemic. And surely England had a protocol in place to prevent such instances occurring? So why was it not followed?
Modric remains a class above but Scotland are on an upward trajectory
Luka Modric scored a sublime goal as Croatia beat Scotland 3-1 at Hampden. In doing so he became Croatia's youngest and oldest scorer at a European Championship.
It was a goal of some class and was illustrative of the gulf in class between the two sides on the day. Croatia were deserved winners with the result consigning Scotland to bottom place in the group.
It represented a chastening evening for Steve Clarke's side after the high of the draw against England on Friday.
However, Scotland are on an upward trajectory. They have one of the best coaching teams in European football, have an excellent core and are a goalscorer away from being a very tricky proposition.
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Yaya Toure, in the Athletic, on the importance of bums. There have never been truer words written than the below. Genuinely.
When we were at City together I used to call Raheem Short One, but his hips, his legs and his bum are so strong that when he gets in a situation like that it can be really hard to get him off the ball. Raheem’s development from the player that arrived at City to the one he is now is so impressive. I thought in the first game against Croatia he was great, scoring a fantastic goal. The Scotland game was quite demanding and difficult for him but I know him — he will come back even stronger. Harry Kane, despite the headlines around his struggles so far, is another player I’ve seen at the Euros who is good at using his bum, particularly when he has his back to goal against defenders
England find out who will be knocking them out at the last-16 stage of the tournament with the conclusion of Group F.
Andi Thomas will be here to take you through France's sterile domination of Portugal.
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