Football Features

“This is how glorious it can be” – The big winners and losers as England top Group D and Scotland bow out

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:31, 22 June 2021

In a focused night of football, England dominated Czech Republic 1-0 while Croatia stunned Hampden with a 3-1 win over Scotland to qualify from Group D.

England top the group and will now host one of France, Netherlands or Portugal at Wembley while Croatia will be in Copenhagen against the runner-up from Group E (which, at this point, could be any one of the four sides).

Who were the winners and losers of this manic night of football?

Winner: Jack Grealish

This is it now, the Rubicon has been crossed, pandora’s box has been opened, there’s no going back now. England started Jack Grealish in a major game and he was awesome. And awesome in the literal sense in that he inspired awe with his touches, movement and audacity.

For audacious is the only word you can use to describe Grealish, the man whose movements across the pitch represent the physical manifestation of Barry White’s voice, whose gravity draws in bodies like he were a supermassive black hole, whose passes thread the eye of the needle with a broadsword.

It took him 12 minutes to wield his authority like Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet, carving out a sublime cross to create the only goal of the game for Raheem Sterling. Then for the entire rest of his time on the field is cruised and glided and strutted his stuff.

Jack Grealish is England’s Ronaldinho and now we’ve all seen how glorious it can be, don’t you dare take that away from us.

Loser: Scotland

They fought with everything they had, but Scotland were facing an uphill task against the 2018 World Cup finalists. Without their midfield talisman Billy Gilmour, they just couldn’t create enough consistent trouble to really pain Croatia.

They did finally score a goal, with Callum McGregor lashing home from the edge of the box, but in truth they were always clawing at Croatia, trying desperately to lay a glove on them. They fought their hearts out and should be commended, but the killer goal from Luka Modric, a trivela strike from the edge of the box, was emblematic of the sheer gulf in class on display here. The Real Madrid man then picked up an assist later with a superb corner for Ivan Perisic.

Scotland, we’ll miss you! But you can’t deny Croatia are a fantastic side whose emphatic 3-1 victory sent them above the Czech Republic into second place and automatic qualification for the round of 16.

Winner: Raheem Sterling

#BrentBoy does it again! Raheem Sterling almost opened the scoring mere seconds into the game as a great pass from Luke Shaw saw him stream in behind the defence and chip Tomas Vaclik – but the ball struck the post!

The local lad didn’t stop going, however, and scored his second goal of the tournament (and England’s second goal of the tournament) with a back-post header from Jack Grealish’s cross. A wonderful finish, it cemented Sterling’s spot as a starter for England and their most dynamic player in the final third. If England are to do anything at Euro 2020, it’s clear that Raheem Sterling will play a huge part.


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Loser: Jadon Sancho

You have to feel for Jadon Sancho. In the last three years of Bundesliga football he has been routinely top-class, one of the most electrifying players in a division that contains such world stars as Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. But that’s not been enough to convince Gareth Southgate to start him for England, being benched for a kid who has played 17 times in the Europa League.

But to make matters worse, with Sancho watching, that same kid unleashed a superb display. Bukayo Saka was wonderful at Wembley, so sublime that he had Ian Wright quoting Loki in the studio at half-time. “Everyone at Arsenal knows that Bukayo Saka is burdened with glorious purpose,” and really, you find it hard to argue with him.

The youngster had a chance and took it with both hands, playing so well that Jadon Sancho was reduced to an almost insulting 8 minute cameo at the end of the match while Saka’s stock rose so high that people are now wondering whether or not Golden Child Phil Foden (let alone an outcast like the brilliant Sancho) gets back into the XI.

Winner: Gareth Southgate

For the first time at Euro 2020, Gareth Southgate took a risk. He ditched the 4-3-3 with a workhorse midfield and went 4-2-3-1, giving “Captain” Jack Grealish the freedom of Wembley to drift and link with Raheem Sterling while Bukayo Saka tore up the right flank.

It wasn’t as risky as it could have been, but it was a calculated risk for Southgate and it paid off immensely. Three games, two wins, three clean sheets and first place in the group. This was the first time since 1982 that England have progressed through a group stage with three clean sheets since the 1982 World Cup, which shows the level of their achievement.

Of course Southgate’s reward for winning the group is a game against France, Germany or Portugal. Absolute monsters of the international scene, but teams that will drive England to play their very best and, who knows, could lead to a historic result. “Lots of different tests [but] there’s a lot of good things that we’re doing,” said Southgate, showing no fear of any opponents.

Loser: Tyrone Mings

You have to feel for Tyrone Mings. He starts two games for England and doesn’t put a foot wrong defensively. In fact he is actively brilliant at the back, clearing the ball numerous times. But his passing was poor, and that was most notable when today Harry Maguire stepped back in to his place in the defence and the quality of England’s football jumped up several levels.

The thing Maguire has over Mings, and over every England defender, is his ability to progress the ball. Whether that’s through his passing, or via dribbling with the ball, what happens is England’s midfielders and sometimes forwards receive possession in much more advanced positions because Maguire is so good at advancing play.

That’s something Mings will never be able to recreate, and so despite his rock solid displays is, barring an injury or formation change, unlikely to start again at Euro 2020. Harry Maguire is just too god damn good.