There is no conclusive evidence yet that football is coming home but with their Wembley route booked and their defensive captain restored England took a positive step forward last night.
Thrown in to start his first match for six and a half weeks, Harry Maguire came through with flying colours to deliver a significant shot in the arm to England’s ambitions of going deep into these Euros. That they will now attempt to do so with home advantage in all but one of their games offers up a tantalising opportunity.
Asked to go from nought to 60 with the Euros’ joint leading scorer Patrik Schick in town, Maguire looked as if he had never been away, seeing him off after 75 minutes. As a test run for the knockout stages it was just what Gareth Southgate would have hoped for.
However watertight England have been up to this point Southgate will be relieved to have him back. He championed the Manchester United captain before kick-off as the best English defender in the Premier League last season and it was instructive that it was John Stones rather than Maguire who was withdrawn in the closing stages as the tournament’s misers delivered a third successive clean sheet.
Recalling Maguire was a rough call on Tyrone Mings, who came on for Stones late on, but the fact is he does offer England something extra.
While the headers he wins and the blocks he puts in are the bread and butter and the crunching challenge which put a hole in Tomas Holes a reminder of his physical presence, it is his distribution which adds an additional dimension.
Maguire might have flexed his damaged ankle somewhat concerningly during the Czech anthem but there was no issue when the action started, certainly not with the precision pass to Harry Kane in the 25th minute which split the visitors wide open.
It was a risk by Southgate to reintroduce him from the start but one with a safety net in the knowledge that whatever happened, England were in the last 16.
Stress-free games for England at a major tournament are few and far between but here was a match where those watching could relax for once.
Odd how things work out isn’t it? The 0-0 draw that saw England booed off the Wembley pitch against Scotland turned out to have put them through with a game to spare.
The only audible boos from the crowd last night came when news of Scotland’s equaliser against Croatia came up on the big screen and the odd murmur when Jack Grealish was replaced.
There might have been some when England took the knee but it was hard to tell music from the PA system and loud applause combining to ensure it remained unheard. If the gesture ever was a moment of reflection, it isn’t any more.
It was though on the whole a feelgood night at Wembley. Against potentially tricky opponents England were dominant. The Czechs were restricted to just one shot on target.
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If the home crowd would have liked to have seen some more attacking action in the second half from England after a bright opening period then at least they were able to savour victory.
Published at Wed, 23 Jun 2021 04:50:00 +0000