Kit controversy and Kane out – 5 talking points ahead of England-Brazil clash

By Sports Desk March 22, 2024

England’s Euro 2024 preparations begin in earnest when they face Brazil in a high-profile friendly at Wembley on Saturday night.

It is one of two matches left before manager Gareth Southgate names his squad for the tournament in Germany as England look to go one better than their penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the clash.

Getting shirty

Saturday’s friendly will be the first time the men’s senior team sport the new Nike kit following the backlash that met its release this week. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer were among a hosts of names to criticise the decision to alter the colour of the St George’s Cross on the back of the collar. Southgate said: “It’s not been high on my list of priorities. The most important thing on the England shirt is our Three Lions because that is an iconic symbol. It is the thing that distinguishes us.”

Brazil looking to avoid Wembley blues

The five-time World Cup winners will be wearing blue rather than their famous yellow shirts at Wembley, where they are looking to avoid suffering a fourth straight loss in all competitions. Brazil ended last year with World Cup qualification defeats to Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina and start 2024 as underdogs against England under new boss Dorival Junior. The 61-year-old, who was appointed manager in January, says Saturday will be the most exciting day of his life, but one he hopes will “be surpassed in July 2026 by winning the World Cup” – a tall order for a country lacking the stars of old.

Forward thinking

Fitness permitting, captain and all-time leading goalscorer Harry Kane will be Southgate’s striker during the finals. However, the 30-year-old injured his ankle in Bayern Munich’s win last weekend and will miss the game with Brazil, while Southgate rated him as a “big doubt” for Tuesday’s match with Belgium. That will open the door for both Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney, who will be hoping to get a chance to stake a claim as the main support in Germany. Watkins has hit 16 Premier League goals for Aston Villa this term and Toney is back in the Brentford side after serving an eight-month ban for breaching Football Association betting rules.

The Mainoo event

Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo has been in fine form for Erik ten Hag’s side in recent months, leading to calls for a first senior call-up for the 18-year-old. Having been overlooked initially by Southgate, he was promoted from the under-21 set-up earlier in the week and could make his debut against Brazil, given the injury concerns in his position. The potential of matching a prospect such as Mainoo with the likes of Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham will be something that excites Southgate, England supporters and the team alike.

Another debutant duo?

Unlike Mainoo, Anthony Gordon and Jarrad Branthwaite – both part of last summer’s European Under-21 Championship-winning squad – were named in Southgate’s original selection. Newcastle forward Gordon has impressed since leaving Everton, where centre-back Branthwaite has this season developed into a “Rolls Royce” of a player in the view of team-mate Jordan Pickford. The pair will be hoping they have an opportunity to make a late run for a place on the plane to Germany, with numbers tight in Southgate’s 23-man squad.

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  • Southgate admits England falling short, bemoans midfield options after Denmark draw Southgate admits England falling short, bemoans midfield options after Denmark draw

    Gareth Southgate admits England have fallen short of expectations thus far at Euro 2024, bemoaning their failure to find a replacement for Kalvin Phillips in midfield.

    Having opened their Group C campaign with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Serbia last week, England failed to clinch top spot with a game to spare as they were pegged back in a 1-1 draw with Denmark on Thursday.

    Harry Kane put the Three Lions ahead after 18 minutes, but they soon fell into old habits and sat deeper against a lively Denmark side, who levelled through Morten Hjulmand's ferocious 25-yard strike.

    While England remain on course to top Group C, sitting two points clear of Denmark and Slovenia, who they face on matchday three, their performance put Southgate under more scrutiny.

    England have attempted just 17 shots – seven of them on target – in their two games at Euro 2024, amassing a total of 1.85 expected goals (xG).

    Scotland are the only team to have played two matches and created a lower xG total, amassing just 0.78 in their 5-1 defeat to Germany and a 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

    Speaking at his post-match press conference, Southgate said: "Clearly, we're disappointed with the level of the two performances we've had, so we've got to go and analyse that in depth and find solutions to addressing the issues we have.

    "We know the level can be higher. Maybe the biggest thing is we have to accept the environment that we're in and the expectations that are around us. At the moment, we're falling a little bit short of that.

    "Ultimately, that's my responsibility. I'm the manager, and I've got to guide this group in the best way possible to achieve extraordinary things."

    Trent Alexander-Arnold came in for particular criticism after retaining his place in midfield, despite no England player bettering his three chances created or five line-breaking passes, even as he was substituted after just 54 minutes.

    In their 2-1 extra-time win over Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, England recorded 31 per cent of their open-play touches in the final third.

    That figure was down to 17 per cent on Thursday as they struggled to progress the ball, with 34 per cent of their touches coming in their own third.

    Southgate believes the absence of Phillips – who was omitted from the squad after failing to nail down a starting spot with either Manchester City or loan club West Ham – has been a difficult problem to solve.

    Asked about Alexander-Arnold's display, Southgate told BBC Sport: "He has had some moments where he has delivered as we thought. 

    "It’s an experiment. We don't have a natural replacement for Kalvin Phillips. At the moment we're not flowing as we would like.

    "At the moment we're not using the ball well enough and have to accept if you do that you will suffer at times, as we have. We know there's another level we have to find."

  • Euro 2024 data dive: Pedri matches Ronaldo feat, Hjulmand stunner denies England Euro 2024 data dive: Pedri matches Ronaldo feat, Hjulmand stunner denies England

    Thursday's action at Euro 2024 brought our first group winners in Spain, and plenty of frustration for England.

    Before La Roja clinched top spot in Group B by overcoming Italy, the Three Lions were pegged back in a 1-1 draw with Denmark, who were arguably unfortunate not to win the game. 

    Despite an underwhelming performance, Gareth Southgate's team remain in control of Group C with four points, after Slovenia and Serbia drew 1-1 earlier in the day.

    Here, we round up the standout stats from Thursday's action.

    Slovenia 1-1 Serbia: Jovic rescues last-gasp draw

    The early kick-off delivered yet another late twist as Slovenia were denied a landmark victory at the European Championships with the last kick of the game in Munich. 

    Having seen efforts by Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic repelled by the imperious figure of Jan Oblak, Serbia found themselves behind as Zan Karnicnik's goal put Slovenia on the cusp of their first-ever win at the Euros. 

    However, Luka Jovic had other ideas. The Milan striker rose the highest from another Serbia corner, heading the ball beyond Oblak to score the latest result-altering goal in a Euros match of all-time (excluding extra time), with his equaliser timed at exactly 95 minutes. 

    The result keeps both side's chances of making the last 16 of the competition alive, but for Slovenia, it could have been a memorable day in Munich. 

    Matjaz Kek's side remain winless at the Euros from their five matches (four draws, one loss). Karnicnik's opener was just the second time they had gone ahead in a game at the competition; the last time they did so was during a 3-3 draw with Yugoslavia at Euro 2000. 

    But for all of Serbia's attacking intent, their lack of clinical edge in the final third proved costly despite their late goal. Just four of their 15 shots were on target, with talisman Mitrovic having an afternoon to forget. 

    With his six shots in the match, Mitrovic had the most of any player in a single game at Euro 2024.

    With the Al-Hilal striker having failed to find the back of the net, it means the last four players to have more than six shots at a European Championships have not scored - the other three coming at Euro 2020. 

    Denmark 1-1 England: Scrutiny piles on Southgate

    While the other game in Group C finished with the same scoreline, the encounter will not be remembered in a hurry, in particular for England fans. 

    Harry Kane opened the scoring in Frankfurt. His opener was his fifth goal at the Euros, becoming the first England player and eighth player overall to score five or more goals at both the men's World Cup and European Championships.

    He also became the third man to score at four different major international tournaments for England, along with Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

    But Morten Hjulmand equalised with what was his first goal for Denmark in all competitions (in his ninth appearance). It was also Denmark's ninth goal from outside the box at the European Championship, with only three teams netting more on record (since 1980 – Germany 15, Netherlands 12, France 11).

     

    Denmark's leveller was the eighth goal England have conceded from outside the box at the Euros. No side has conceded more on record in the history of the competition (since 1980, Portugal are level with the Three Lions).

    There have been 13 goals scored from outside the box at Euro 2024, already more than there were in the entire group stages of Euro 2020 (12).

    England have now won just two of their last eight competitive meetings with Denmark (four draws, two losses), having won each of their first four such games against them.

    Spain 1-0 Italy: Pedri matches Ronaldo feat, unwanted history for Cristante

    In the final game of the day, Spain produced another dominant performance to clinch top spot in Group B with a 1-0 win over defending champions Italy.

    Riccardo Calafiori's second-half own goal made the difference, the defender becoming the first Azzurri player to ever put through his own net in a European Championship match.

    He is also just the second Italian to score an own goal at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) overall, after Cristian Zaccardo versus the United States at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which Italy won on German soil.

    If they are to lift more silverware in Berlin next month, they will need a dramatic improvement, having attempted just four shots in a tame performance on Thursday – their fewest on record (since 1980) in any match at the Euros.

    Spain, on the other hand, look like genuine contenders after following up their 3-0 thrashing of Croatia with another deserved victory. They have won their first two games of a European Championship tournament to nil for just the second time, previously doing so in 2016 (1-0 versus Czechia, 3-0 against Turkiye).

    Fabian Ruiz produced an energetic performance in the heart of La Roja's midfield, winning possession in the final third on six occasions, the most by any player in a Euros match since David Silva in a 2008 quarter-final between Spain and Italy (also six).

    Team-mate Pedri, meanwhile, kept things ticking over on his 12th major tournament appearance for Spain (World Cup/Euros). 

    That is the joint-most by any European player while aged 21 or younger, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, who played 12 times for Portugal at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.

    There was a piece of unwanted history for an Italy midfielder, though, as Bryan Cristante received a yellow card just 20 seconds after coming off the bench at the start of the second half, the quickest booking for a substitute on record at the Euros (since 1980).

  • Euro 2024 social round-up: Mbappe masked-up, Carragher questions Southgate Euro 2024 social round-up: Mbappe masked-up, Carragher questions Southgate

    The second matches in each of Group B and Group C have now been completed at Euro 2024.

    Spain beat Italy 1-0 in the late match on Thursday, ensuring their progression into the last 16 as Group B victors.

    Both Group C matches were drawn, with Serbia scoring late on against Slovenia, while England were held 1-1 by Denmark, with Gareth Southgate's team coming in for some criticism.

    Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe has a new look.

    Here, we wrap up the best social posts from Euro 2024.

    Critical Carra questions Southgate

    Southgate is facing plenty of scrutiny after two underwhelming England performances, even if the Three Lions are topping Group C.

    Jamie Carragher was among the pundits to question England's manager, as the former Liverpool defender posted on X: "Pleased Southgate has made changes, as by the look of England so far they are going to need real energy from the bench in every game. Disappointed Anthony Gordon wasn't one of those changes."

    Carragher subsequently posted that, while Euro 2024 has been a thrilling tournament so far, two of the poorer matches involved England. It's hard to argue with him, too.

    The Serbian shuffle

    Serbia kept their hopes alive by snatching a point late on against Slovenia.

    And beforehand, their fans were enjoying the atmosphere - and a little dance - in Munich.

    Kane catching up

    England's performance left a lot to be desired in their 1-1 draw with Denmark, though Harry Kane did get on the scoresheet.

    He has now scored five Euros goals, behind only Alan Shearer (seven) and Wayne Rooney (six) for the Three Lions.

    "We know we can be better"

    Kane held his hands up after full-time, acknowledging in an Instagram post that England's players know they can improve.

    But the captain was quick to point out their result against Denmark, adding it was "a tough point earned against a good side."

    He concluded: "Let’s keep improving from here!"

    When sports collide

    Denmark have plenty of support in Germany, given the Scandinavian nation shares a border with the host country of Euro 2024.

    And one of those in the crowd cheering on Kasper Hjulmand's team in Frankfurt against England was former world number one tennis star, Caroline Wozniacki.

    Plenty of passion, but no points

    Luciano Spalletti and Gianluigi Buffon belted out the Italian national anthem ahead of the Azzurri's clash with Spain.

    Unfortunately for them, their passion did not equate to a positive result. 

    Hats off

    There's always plenty of fancy dress at major tournaments.

    And a Spanish fan and a Italian fan took their hardware to a different level ahead of Thursday's contest in Gelsenkirchen...

    Masked Mbappe

    It looks as though Mbappe will indeed be fit to feature for France against the Netherlands on Friday, despite breaking his nose against Austria.

    Didier Deschamps confirmed that, if the superstar forward does play, it will be with a mask, and Mbappe gave us a sneak peak of what that will look like when he stepped out to train in Leipzig.

    It looks to be a personalised mask in the colours of the French flag.

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