Football

England seeks elusive opening match win

There’s an indicator of why England has never won the European Championship. In nine attempts, it’s never won an opening match at the tournament.

England opens another continental campaign at its national stadium against the team that prevented Gareth Southgate’s side reaching the World Cup final three years ago. Croatia on Sunday will face a team refreshed since losing 2-1 and denied a shot at adding to its only major title at the 1966 World Cup.

Led by 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, only nine members of that squad made the cut for the expanded 26-man group.

On the injury front, centre back Harry Maguire and midfielder Jordan Henderson might not be fit enough to start.

What Southgate won’t be doing is trying to overload the starting XI against Croatia with too many of the exciting attacking options and leave it unbalanced. Perhaps Kane is the only certain starter, with Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden vying for roles.

How to counteract Croatia’s likely midfield three of Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and, of course, Luka Modric, is weighing on England’s minds after being over-run in that territory in 2018.

Since the World Cup, when Croatia lost the final to France, Zlatko Dalic’s side has lost and drawn with England in the UEFA Nations League.

Unlike England, Croatia has won opening matches at the European Championship — four times, in fact, and drawn another.

Another European powerhouse, the Netherlands, will look to right a seven year long wait. It’s been that many years since the Netherlands last played at a major soccer tournament. On Sunday in Amsterdam, the Dutch will finally be back on the field to take on Ukraine in Group C.

In the day’s other Group C game, Austria will open play against North Macedonia on Sunday in Bucharest. The two teams met twice in qualifying for the tournament, with Austria winning 4-1 and 2-1.


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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 12:25:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/england-seeks-elusive-opening-match-win/article34800444.ece

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