London (AFP) – England got their Euro 2020 campaign off to a perfect start on Sunday, beating Croatia 1-0 to exact revenge for their painful defeat in the 2018 World Cup semi-final in Russia.
The home side started brightly in the hot Wembley sunshine before losing momentum as the first half wore on, but Raheem Sterling made the crucial breakthrough in the 57th minute and Croatia were unable to hit back.
AFP Sport picks out three talking points from the opening Group D fixture.
Foden right at home
It has been a breakthrough season for Phil Foden, who has established himself in the Manchester City team and got Gareth Southgate’s vote for a starting spot.
The 21-year-old had his hair dyed blond on the eve of the tournament, seeking to channel the magic of Paul Gascoigne at Euro 96, and looked immediately at home on the big stage.
Foden only made his England debut in September so would probably not have featured had the tournament gone ahead as planned last year, before coronavirus intervened.
Southgate picked the Premier League winner as part of an exciting forward line alongside captain Harry Kane, City team-mate Sterling and Chelsea’s Mason Mount.
And Foden almost gave England the perfect start in front of the home fans, hitting the post with a curling left-footed shot in the sixth minute after some typically twinkle-toed play.
He made way for Marcus Rashford with 20 minutes to go but will be confident he will have a big role to play as the tournament progresses.
Southgate springs defensive surprise
England manager Gareth Southgate sprung a surprise by picking experienced right-back Kieran Trippier on the other side of the defence, preferring him to Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell.
England’s youthful side have an embarrassment of riches up front but there are question marks over their defence, particularly because centre-back Harry Maguire is still not fully fit.
Southgate explained his decision to play Trippier out of position before kick-off after Shaw had a fine season Manchester United and Chilwell won the Champions League with Chelsea.
“With Kieran, we feel (we have) a very experienced player, a good one v one defender to stop crosses coming in,” he said.
“His communication and leadership will be a help. We have got changes in the backline and I think his experience will help us.”
Southgate’s confidence proved well-placed as Trippier, John Stones, Tyrone Mings and Kyle Walker snuffed out Croatia’s few dangerous attacks.
Modric can’t find magic touch
Luka Modric is the only man other than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to have won the Ballon d’Or since 2007 and he is the player who makes Croatia tick.
The Croatia midfielder, nearly 36, is one of the greatest, most decorated midfielders of his generation and has enjoyed a fine season with Real Madrid.
Modric, who won football’s most prestigious individual award in 2018, was unable to dictate play early in London as England started on the front foot but came into the match as the first half wore on, knitting his team’s play together with his trademark passes.
But without the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic, who have retired from international football since the World Cup, Modric did not have the supporting cast to mastermind another fightback.
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