England much like the South African cricket teams of the past have been pre-tournament favourites for many albeit for reasons beyond my comprehension always manage to deceive at crucial moments.
Yes, with a momentous showing in the 2018 World Cup, The Three Lions at a time when they were soaring to the finals, somehow came second best to Croatia in the semi-finals.
A decisive moment left England struggling at Moscow as Mario Mandžukić sealed the deal for the East European nation in extra time. English hearts and hearts around the world were broken. Again!
Well, as they say life comes a full circle as a certain measure of revenge was extracted yesterday by The Three Lions as they sank Croatia by a margin of one goal in the opening fixture amid a 22,000 strong Wembley.
The only word missing from the English performance was complete albeit they managed to arrest their opening fixture winless streak in the Euros having drawn five and lost four in their nine previous attempts.
This without having a Manchester United or Liverpool player in the starting XI since almost the start of time! Am sure, you get the picture of the importance these two champion clubs command on English football.
Truth be told, a win is a win at the end of the day and being an English faithful, I was happy with this showing to start on a high as we dissect the English performance in the opening game of Group D:
The Three Lions start brightly only to fizzle out in the first 45
The hosts marched out on the pitch at the home of football with purpose led by their inspirational leader, Harry Kane amid cheers aplenty.
With iconic defender, Harry Maguire still injured and Liverpool’s stalwart midfielder Jordan Henderson on the bench, young Tyrone Mings and Kalvin Phillips started the game.
As the contest began, The Three Lions looked all but up for this as young English sensation, Phil Foden created England’s first opportunity on goal in only the 6th minute when his shot hit the post.
This after the Manchester City midfielder sporting a new blonde hairdo received a majestic pass from club compatriot Raheem Sterling and did well to strike from his favoured left foot.
Croatia were lucky the ball didn’t go in and as they tried to resurrect their defence, three minutes later another English youngster, Kalvin Phillips’s attempt was tipped aside by the Croatian keeper, Livakovic.
The Three Lions looked dominant, aggressive and very close to mounting a first on the score board.
As the game went on Croatia managed to find their feet and gained territory into the English half as the hosts attacking threats were nowhere as lethal as the first nine minutes. In truth, their offensive display looked all but fizzled out as the first 45 drew to a close.
A better showing in the second half was surely the need of the hour as England were desperate to right their opening game voodoo in the European Championship.
The Sterling and Phillips show lights up England in the second 45
As the second 45 began, the voodoo was finally righted courtesy Raheem Sterling and for me more importantly Kalvin Phillips. It’s funny how the builder of an opportunity or rather the contributor vis-à-vis the striker never gets the deserved credit.
Well, the Leeds United man did when in the 56th minute, he made a majestic run to dodge two men and offered a fine pass to Raheem Sterling in the Croatian D who made no mistake in slotting the ball pass Livakovic in the back of the net.
A perfect build up from England’s holding midfielder who in this game played more like an attacking option, put the hosts in front as they exploited the perfect gap in the Croatian defence. The move was simply brilliant and deservedly, so Kalvin Phillips was awarded the player of the match.
This move was enough for an English onslaught resurrection as minutes later Harry Kane missed a chance to put England two to the good as his shot from a Mason Mount cross went high.
England would continue creating more goal scoring opportunities as Chelsea midfielder, Mason Mount hit the ball inches above the post from a free kick in the 66th minute followed by Sterling missing another good opportunity to score.
With no further twists, as the referee called time England came out as the rightful winners in a game where the hosts could have mounted more goals.
Going forward, England need to showcase a more decisive and complete brand of football
The Three Lions need to depict a better showing in the games to follow against Czech Republic and Scotland to anoint themselves as the rightful leaders in this group.
To accomplish this, surely a 1-0 score line is not going to suffice as a more decisive and complete brand of football is the need of the hour with goals aplenty. Creating opportunities is one thing but converting them is also of vital essence where the hosts in this game were found lacking.
When The Three Lions proceed to the next round to face the likes of Portugal, France, Belgium and others, they will need to convert every opportunity to beat these European powerhouses.
Having said this, it’s just the opening game and an improved showing from the hosts will surely follow.
Go on my Three Lions, Europe awaits the might of your roar!
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