Football Features

Five things learned as England and Scotland complete pre-Euros warm-up fixtures

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:55, 7 June 2024

England and Scotland brought a close to their pre-Euro 2024 warm-up friendlies on Friday and it was a night of disappointment.

Gareth Southgate’s men open their Euro 2024 campaign against Serbia next Sunday, hoping to go one better than their final heartbreak at Wembley three years ago. The Three Lions beat Bosnia on Monday at St James’ Park but weren’t too comfortable, so there were hopes of a more assured display at Wembley.

But those hopes were extinguished with a 1-0 defeat to Iceland, the first time England had failed to win their final friendly before a European Championship since 1968, ending a run of nine consecutive victorious send-offs.

Scotland, meanwhile, face Germany in the Euro 2024 opener in exactly one week. They beat Gibraltar earlier in the week but were looking to end a three-game winless streak at home against Finland. However, three games became four as Scotland gave up a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at Hampden Park.

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England still struggle breaking teams down

‘We know it was then but it could be again’ was the motto held up again in the Wembley crowd before their game against Iceland. But there’s another line from Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds’ Three Lions that would have been more apt for Friday night: ‘They’ve seen it all before’.

England went one goal down against Iceland and, as they did in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, failed to break their opponents down. It’s been a common theme for England years over the past when up against a team that knows how to defend. Iceland set up to frustrate the England attack and they did just that.

Gareth Southgate’s men weren’t without their chances, with Harry Kane and Cole Palmer missing good opportunities in either half. But England weren’t threatening Hakon Valdimarsson in the Iceland goal enough.

The Three Lions had 13 shots in total but only hit the target once, in the first half. In the second half alone, they failed to hit the target with any of their eight shots.

Do Scotland have their goalscoring answer?

Perhaps the biggest question for Scotland ahead of Euro 2024 was who would start up front. Lyndon Dykes was the favourite, but a massive spanner was thrown in the works after his injury.

John McGinn is the top scorer in Scotland’s squad with 18 goals, the only player on double figures. Dykes had nine in 36, with the remaining five forwards boasting 13 between them.

Lawrence Shankland was favoured against Gibraltar and led the line once more vs Finland on Friday. It’s the first time he’s started two consecutive games for Scotland. In his previous nine games, Shankland had scored two goals, netting against San Marino and Georgia, the latter despite having just four minutes on the pitch.

He was feeding off scraps at Hampden Park on Friday and it looked set to be another one of those nights for Shankland and Scotland. Even when they took the lead in the first half, it was through an own goal. Three of the past five times Scotland had scored at Hampden Park were thanks to their opponents putting the ball in their own net.

But then Shankland took his moment to make it 2-0. It was a good header at the far post to get onto the end of Andrew Robertson’s cross despite being manhandled by the Finland defence. He came off shortly after, but surely that has put him as first choice for Scotland’s game in Munich in one week.

Trent Alexander-Arnold must start

Trent Alexander-Arnold started the win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in midfield alongside Conor Gallagher, providing a good creative base. He also scored well-taken volley to put England 2-0 up.

On Friday, Alexander-Arnold began on the bench and came on in the second half, this time replacing Kyle Walker at right back. And, once again, his quality showed.

Alexander-Arnold was arguably England’s best creative outlet on the night, even with his limited time on the pitch. He created some good chances and asked questions of the Iceland defence wit his psasing.

He has to start for England at Euro 2024 to provide that different outlet. The question is, where does he start?

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Problems at the back for Scotland

Things were looking good for Scotland when they went 2-0 up, ready to set off for Munich on a high. But then Scotland’s other problem reared its ugly head: their defence.

With 20 minutes left to play, Benjamin Kallman was allowed a free header inside the Scotland box after a cross from deep. Oliver Antman was given little resistance to cut into the middle of the pitch from the wing, while Kallman got his free header despite having two defenders around him.

And then Craig Gordon, who won’t be at Euro 2024, took out Tomas Galvez inside the Scotland box as his defence once again failed to deal with a cross. It was a clattering and there really couldn’t be any complaints, particularly when VAR confirmed the referee’s initial decision.

Jordan Pickford cements spot

Only injury was really going to prevent Jordan Pickford from being England’s No.1 at Euro 2024, but the Three Lions’ friendly against Iceland gave Aaron Ramsdale a chance to stake his claim. Unfortunately, the Arsenal goalkeeper was only able to cement Pickford’s spot as No.1.

It was Iceland’s first real attack, breaking fast — and they could have made it 2-0 in a similar fashion in the second half — with Jón Dagur Þorsteinsson finishing well. He shaped up to shoot into the far corner but actually directed his shot to the near post, deceiving Ramsdale. But Ramsdale will have been disappointed to have been beaten low at his near post from range, having looked to have the angle covered.

Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole, providing punditry on the game for Channel 4, both avoided blaming Ramsdale, talking up the quality of the shot. However, it was still a point against Ramsdale even with a couple of saves in the second half.