London (AFP) – England can join Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Friday if they get the better of neighbours Scotland, while Sweden took a step towards the next round with a 1-0 win over Slovakia.
The oldest and most played fixture in international football takes place at a major tournament for just the second time with the Scots aiming to avenge England’s 2-0 win at Euro 96.
England manager Gareth Southgate was part of that winning side 25 years ago, but does not want his players to be distracted by the acrimony that surrounds a meeting with Scotland.
“For the fans and for us it is a big occasion but it is another opportunity for three points and our objective is qualification. That is what we have got to focus on,” said Southgate.
“I want them to approach it like any other game of football and focus on playing well and (they) don’t need to emphasise the other parts too much.”
Despite having just 2,500 tickets for the 22,500 crowd limited by coronavirus restrictions, Scottish fans have descended on London in their thousands.
After a 23-year wait to reach a major finals, the Scots were stung by Patrik Schick’s double in a 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic on Monday.
Another defeat would leave Steve Clarke’s men needing to beat World Cup finalists Croatia heavily in their final game and other results to go their way to have any chance of reaching the knockout stage for the first time.
– Tierney returns –
Scotland’s chances of causing an upset have received a massive boost with the return of Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney from a hamstring injury.
“We need him back. He’s a top player and an amazing character and someone we want back in the team,” said Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay.
“He’s someone we need and we rely on him a lot for what he brings to the squad.”
England also have a full complement of players to choose from with United captain Harry Maguire back in contention after recovering from ankle ligament damage.
Southgate’s men avenged their World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia to get off to a winning start in the European Championship for the first time on Sunday.
Croatia will look to bounce back from their sluggish display in the Wembley heat when they play against the Czechs in Glasgow in Friday’s 1600 GMT kick-off.
Lining up against the Croats will be Schick, who scored a goal of the tournament contender in the Czechs’ win over Scotland, a stunning drive from near the halfway line that left goalkeeper David Marshall wrapped in his own net.
– Sweden deny Slovaks –
Slovakia blew the chance to qualify for the last 16 with a match to spare after losing to Sweden in Saint Petersburg and conceding top spot in Group E to their opponents.
The Swedes were heavily criticised for their ultra-defensive approach in their opening match, a goalless draw with Spain, but Janne Andersson’s team were far more forward-looking on Friday.
Emil Forsberg’s penalty 13 minutes from the end earned Sweden a win which gives them four points, one more than second-placed Slovakia who had needed a win if they were to seal early passage to the next round.
Far from the turgid display against Spain, Sweden almost scored one of the great European championship goals through Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak, who weaved past four defenders before seeing a low strike saved by Martin Dubravka at his near post.
Sweden now look set to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 2004, with a point in their final game against Poland at the Krestovsky Stadium on Wednesday enough to ensure a top-two finish in the group.
Spain sit third in the group with a single point ahead of their game against Poland in Seville on Saturday, boosted by the return of captain Sergio Busquets to Luis Enrique’s squad after testing negative for Covid-19.
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