Here’s a hardly believable statistic: England had failed to win any of their previous nine (9!) opening games at a European Championship before last night’s 1-0 win over Croatia. Nine! To put it another way, they had never won their first match at a Euros. Ever.
That’s 2016 (1-1 v Russia), 2012 (1-1 v France), 2004 (1-2 v France), 2000 (2-3 v Portugal), 1996 (1-1 v Switzerland), 1992 (0-0 v Denmark), 1988 (0-1 v Ireland), 1980 (1-1 v Belgium), and 1968 (0-1 v Yugoslavia). England failed to qualify five other times (2008, 1984, 1976, 1972, 1964) and did not enter in the very first edition of the competition in 1960.
Now that the first win is in the bag, it’s surely coming home, right? The shirtless masses of drunk English Beef™ in the Wembley stands would probably agree.
It wasn’t necessarily inspiring stuff from the Three Lions — especially after a bright opening quarter of an hour — though with Mason Mount putting in a shift up to his standard levels excellence, and alongside Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips generally outplaying Croatia’s much more experienced midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić, and Marcel Brozović. A strong tackle from Kova on Mount was less welcome, but fortunately Mason came off no worse for the wear despite an awkward-looking knee position.
England boss Gareth Southgate gave a surprise start to Raheem Sterling, which paid off when the Manchester City winger scored the game’s only goal (thanks largely to a stellar run and pass from Phillips). Southgate also managed to start a right back at left back, which remained silly even if Kieran Trippier once again proved a decent threat with set-piece deliveries and throws. That also meant that Ben Chilwell didn’t even make the matchday squad, and that Reece James watched from the bench throughout as Kyle Walker bumbled and stumbled his way through 90 minutes on the right flank. Young Jude Bellingham did see action, becoming England’s youngest ever player at a Euros.
England’s next game is against Scotland on
Elsewhere on Sunday, Austria scored twice late on for an important 3-1 win over North Macedonia, and an entertaining five-goal second half saw Netherlands win 3-2 against Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine, who came from 2-0 down before losing it late.