Georginio Wijnaldum struggled to explain the Netherlands' "off-day" against the Czech Republic as their Euro 2020 campaign ended at the last-16 stage.

Frank de Boer's side were the favourites to reach the quarter-finals after three wins from three games in the group stage, but they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Budapest as a red card to Matthijs de Ligt proved costly.

The Juventus man was sent off for a deliberate handball and the Czech Republic capitalised on their advantage, Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick scoring the goals to send them through.

The Netherlands failed to attempt a shot on target for the first time in a European Championship or World Cup match for the first time since at least 1980 as they struggled to replicate the attacking flair they showed previously in the tournament.

Captain Wijnaldum was an isolated figure throughout in the number 10 role, completing just 10 passes in the contest, the fewest of any Oranje outfield player in a Euros knockout match for at least the past 41 years.

Wijnaldum pointed to a good chance for Donyell Malen, which was missed barely 30 seconds before De Ligt's red card, as a key point in the contest but admitted his side deserved little for their performance.

"In the second half, we had a good chance and you have to finish that," he told NOS.

"The goals we gave away, the chances we didn't take... all that goes through your head. After the red card, we found it difficult to put them under pressure. Things just got more difficult for us.

"The whole match was tough going. Somehow we couldn't deal with the way they pressurised us. We couldn't create spaces. We fashioned a few chances in the first half, but not enough.

"Before the tournament, there was a lot of criticism around our way of playing, and we turned that around. Today was an off-day. I can hardly explain it. It's very difficult, but it's the reality."

The Czech Republic will face Denmark in the quarter-finals next Saturday.

 

The Netherlands have been one of the most obviously entertaining and thrilling sides to watch at Euro 2020 and the opening stages of their shock 2-0 last-16 defeat to the Czech Republic in Budapest was no exception.

Frank De Boer's side were rapid and relentless down the flanks and, by the time Denzel Dumfries peeled infield and charged into the centre-forward position to collect Daley Blind's raking pass, a bedraggled Czech backline might have found it easier to be marking all 50,000 inhabitants of the Scottish town with which the rampaging right wing-back shares a name.

Tomas Kalas managed to force Dumfries wide and made a vital, scampering challenge. There is entertainment in such last-ditch defending too, although it rarely looks much fun for the protagonist.

Seven minutes before half-time, it was impossible to ignore a towering man in orange who appeared to be deriving little enjoyment from what was unfolding.

Some worryingly passive Dutch defending let Lukas Masopust find Antonin Barak in the area. In flew Matthijs de Ligt with a goal-saving challenge. The Juventus centre-back howled at everyone within earshot. He was furious.

 

De Ligt the leader

At that moment, it felt like the 21-year-old was in the process of turning in a defining performance to quell the hum of criticism that has soundtracked the past two years of a career that still promises so much.

"De Ligt is the centre-back of our defence. He needs to become much more of a leader than he is now," Netherlands great Marco van Basten told the NOS channel in a curiously harsh criticism after De Ligt returned to help his side to a clean sheet against Austria following the chaotic 3-2 win over Ukraine.

"He went to Italy to learn how to defend more, but I think he didn't learn much there. He needs to lead the rest much more."

De Ligt left Ajax after their celebratory 2018-19 campaign already looking like a born leader. It was hard to imagine those credentials being questioned. But a transitional year at Juventus as Maurizio Sarri tried to implement a new style, followed by last season's ignominy of surrendering the Serie A title under Andrea Pirlo amounted to an unforgiving education in Italy's top flight.

Still, he managed to retain an admirably positive outlook.

"I'm really lucky as I'm playing with almost everybody I'd be watching if I was a young player," De Ligt told The Athletic midway through 2020-21.

"[Leonardo] Bonucci is really good in the build-up, so I talk to him about that and watch what he is doing. [Giorgio] Chiellini is really good at marking, so I'm trying to learn from him too.

"I play with [Virgil] Van Dijk [for the Netherlands]. In the end, though, it's so important that you develop your own game and don't start being a copycat of someone else."

Sunday's match, with Van Dijk a long-term absentee and the prospect of a charge for glory such as the one Bonucci is underpinning with Italy, looked like it might become the game where De Ligt stepped out of those considerable shadows.

De Ligt the scapegoat

As it was, his ill-timed stumble and handball to deny Patrik Schick a goalscoring opportunity – moments after Donyell Malen should have opened the scoring at the other end – engulfed the defender and his team-mates in a darkness they could not lift as the lights went out on their Euro 2020 bid.

"An experienced mature defender doesn't make the second mistake and lets the forward go on and score, because he doesn't leave his team with 10 men on the field," Gary Neville said on ITV after some horrid last-ditch defending that was no fun at all for the man involved.

 

De Ligt's red card makes him an obvious scapegoat. Everything changed when he went off. Save for the effervescent Dumfries charging forward to draw a yellow card from Vladimir Coufal, making a block to rival De Ligt's earlier effort to thwart Pavel Kaderabek and still causing havoc in the opposition half, there was little to recommend about how De Boer's men responded to adversity – their game management very much a minute-by-minute, reactive endeavour.

Tomas Holes' 68th-minute opener hastened the capitulation and the Golden Boot-chasing Schick put the result beyond doubt with his fourth of the tournament. The Netherlands were out, having not conceded a goal at any stage with De Ligt on the field.

He will not have wanted to perversely prove his worth in this fashion. De Ligt's tendency to find positives will be put to its biggest test after this shot at greatness slipped through his fingers because the ball did not.

The Czech Republic reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a surprise 2-0 win over the Netherlands, who had Matthijs de Ligt sent off.

A close game in Budapest swung the way of Jaroslav Silhavy's men 55 minutes in when De Ligt was dismissed for a deliberate handball that prevented Patrik Schick from having a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Tomas Holes then headed in the opening goal before superbly setting up Schick for the second as the Czech Republic progressed to the last eight, where they face Denmark.

The majority of the Netherlands' first-half threat came through the forward runs of Denzel Dumfries, the right-back posing a real danger down the right but unable to provide for Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen.

The best of the first-half chances fell to Antonin Barak, who was teed up by Lukas Masopust but saw his effort from six yards out just blocked over the bar by De Ligt.

Malen carved out a brilliant opening to break the deadlock, driving his way through the Czech Republic defence only to see Tomas Vaclik take the ball from his feet as he tried to round the goalkeeper.

Moments later, De Ligt misjudged a bouncing ball and hooked it away from Patrik Schick with his hand as he fell, leading referee Sergey Karasev to send off the centre-back after a VAR review.

Pavel Kaderabek had a great chance when Schick missed a header, but Dumfries made a brilliant block in front of keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, the Netherlands suddenly on the ropes.

The breakthrough came with a little over 20 minutes left, Holes heading into the net after Tomas Kalas nodded the ball back across the box, with Stekelenburg caught out of position.

Frank de Boer introduced Wout Weghorst in a bid to find an equaliser, but Schick put the game beyond doubt with a slick low finish after Holes drove through a gap between Georginio Wijnaldum and Dumfries before cutting the ball back.

 

UEFA has denied preventing supporters attending the Euro 2020 clash between the Netherlands and Czech Republic from displaying rainbow flags.

Earlier on Sunday, it was reported by Dutch outlets De Telegraaf and Nu that fans arriving for the game in Budapest were having their rainbow flags – a sign of support and pride for the LGBTQ community – confiscated by security guards on the instruction of UEFA.

Hungary has recently faced criticism over its treatment of LGBTQ communities after passing a law that prohibits the sharing of content in schools that could be deemed to promote homosexuality or gender change.

Germany had hoped to underline opposition to that decision when they faced Hungary in their final group-stage game by lighting up Munich's Allianz Arena in rainbow colours, but were blocked from doing so.

However, UEFA insisted any attempted suppression ahead of Sunday's quarter-final in the Hungarian capital would not have been decided upon by Europe's football governing body.

UEFA pointed out local authorities were responsible for areas such as fan parks, and said any rainbow flags should be welcomed.

A statement read: "UEFA had earlier today informed the Hungarian Football Federation that rainbow-coloured symbols are not political and that in line with UEFA’s Equal Game campaign which aims at fighting against any type of discrimination, including against the LGBTQI+ community, such flags will be allowed into the stadium.

"Contrary to some reports in Dutch media, UEFA would like to clarify that it has not banned any rainbow-coloured symbols from the fan zone in Budapest and that the fan zone is under the responsibility of the local authorities. UEFA on the contrary would very much welcome any such symbol into the fan zone."

Netherlands captain Georginio Wijnaldum outlined he would wear a rainbow-coloured captain's armband for his side's last-16 meeting with the Czech Republic.

He also threatened to walk off the field should he or any of his team-mates be subjected to abuse, after reports of players facing homophobic and racist taunts during games held in Budapest during Euro 2020.

Head coach Frank de Boer has warned his Netherlands players there must be "no slackening" in their bid for Euro 2020 glory.

The Netherlands face the Czech Republic in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Sunday as they look to win their opening four games of a European Championship for just the second time.

The sides will face each other at the European Championship for the third time (excl. Czechoslovakia meetings), with both sides winning one game apiece previously. 

They last faced each other in a tournament at Euro 2004 when the Czechs came from two goals down to win 3-2, following an 88th-minute winner from Vladimir Smicer.

De Boer's men have looked in good form and were the top scorers during the group stage with eight goals ahead of the match in Budapest.

"After the win over North Macedonia, we pulled the plug for a while and had a day off," De Boer told a media conference on Saturday.

"But then we immediately picked up the thread again. The other members of the technical staff and the players themselves must ensure that there is no slackening. 

"Players have to hold each other accountable for that as well.

"The Czech Republic know what they want and can disrupt us. They have many people working without a ball, and it is a team that is difficult to fight. 

"We will have a lot of work to do and it will be great achievement to beat the Czech Republic."

De Boer claimed the Netherlands have the ability to win the tournament and acknowledged they have favourable recovery periods, but still need everything to click into gear 

"Of course it depends on the game we show," De Boer added.

"I'm especially happy with the schedule we have now if we keep winning. If we progress one round, we have five rest days and then three rest days I'm happy with that schedule.

"The tournament is only successful if we sail through those challenges. We have the qualities to become European champions, but then everything has to be right."

The Netherlands are looking to win their opening four games of a European Championship for just the second time when they take on the Czech Republic in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Sunday. 

Head coach Frank de Boer played every minute when they last achieved that feat in 2000, the Oranje ultimately losing on penalties to Italy in the semi-finals. 

The Netherlands, who will be without Luuk de Jong after he was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury, do not have a successful record in the knockout stages of this competition, progressing from just two of their seven standalone games since they won the tournament in 1988. They beat Yugoslavia 6-1 in the 2000 quarter-final and overcame Sweden on penalties at the same stage in 2004. 

Standing in their way of a quarter-final clash against either Wales or Denmark is a Czech Republic side who have a miserable record of their own when it comes to European Championship knockout games. 

Jaroslav Silhavy's side have been eliminated in three of their last four games in the knockout stages of the tournament – versus Germany in the final in 1996, Greece in the semi-final in 2004, and most recently, Portugal in the quarter-final of Euro 2012.

They will be without left-back Jan Boril after he picked up a second yellow card of the tournament in the final group game against England, with Ales Mateju in line to deputise.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Netherlands – Georginio Wijnaldum

Wijnaldum made a reasonably slow start in finding the back of the net at international level, scoring 10 goals in his first 53 appearances for the Oranje. He has accelerated in recent years, though, with no player scoring more for the Netherlands than his 15 in 25 games since the start of 2019. 

The new Paris Saint-Germain midfielder scored three goals in the group stage, including a brace in the 3-0 win over North Macedonia. The Czech Republic have been warned.

Czech Republic – Patrik Schick

Schick lit up Euro 2020 with his stunning long-range strike against Scotland in his side's opening game in Group D. 

The Bayer Leverkusen forward was responsible for six of his side's nine shots on target in the group stage – the highest percentage of any player for his team in the tournament (67 per cent).

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the first meeting between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic since October 2015, when the Dutch were beaten 3-2 in a Euro 2016 qualifier. Indeed, they have lost each of their last two games against the Czech Republic – both coming in qualifying for the previous European Championship in 2016.
- The Czech Republic and the Netherlands will face each other at the European Championship for the third time (excl. Czechoslovakia meetings), with both sides winning one game apiece previously. Their last meeting in the competition was a thriller at Euro 2004, in which the Czechs came from two goals down to win 3-2, following an 88th minute winner from Vladimir Smicer.
- The Netherlands completed more high turnovers (open play sequences that start within 40 metres of the opponent’s goal line) than any other side in the Euro 2020 group stages (44), while only Spain (60) forced more pressed sequences (sequences where the opposition has three or fewer passes and the sequence ends within 40m of their own goal) than the Dutch (58).
- Memphis Depay has been directly involved in 13 goals in his last 10 appearances for Netherlands in all competitions (nine goals, four assists), while only Robert Lewandowski (12) attempted more shots than Depay (11) in the group stage at Euro 2020.

Georginio Wijnaldum will wear a rainbow-coloured armband when he captains the Netherlands against the Czech Republic in Budapest on Sunday and has declared that he and his team-mates could leave the field if they are subjected to any form of abuse.

Hungary has faced criticism over its treatment of LGBTQ people after passing a law that prohibits the sharing of content in schools that could be deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change.

Football's attempts to show support have also created controversy, with UEFA launching an investigation into Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's use of a rainbow armband - a nod to the flag of the LGBTQ community - before acknowledging the motif as "a team symbol for diversity".

However, the governing body did not allow Munich's Allianz Arena to be lit up in those colours for Germany's final Group F game against Hungary on Wednesday, ostensibly due to its rules regarding political neutrality.

But that has not discouraged Wijnaldum from plans to wear an armband featuring the words "One Love" for the first time in the tournament when the Dutch head to the Hungarian capital.

"It is not just against Hungary," he said. "The armband means a lot because we stand for diversity – one love means everybody is a part of it and everybody should be free to be who they are.

"In our opinion [the right to be yourself] has been encroached upon. As players we have a podium to do whatever we can to help."

UEFA launched an investigation into allegations that France star Kylian Mbappe and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo faced racist and homophobic abuse during their appearances in Budapest.

And Wijnaldum has warned that he will be ready to take his team off the pitch should any such incidents occur during Sunday's last-16 clash.

"UEFA should be there to protect the players and make the decision," he said. "It should not be left to the players. Players often get punished for protecting themselves so UEFA needs to take a lead role in this.

"I have said I don’t really know how I will react in such a situation. I thought first that I would walk off the pitch but maybe not now because maybe the opponent will think: ‘Let them [in the crowd] throw racist slurs and they will walk off the pitch'.

"It could be the case that I will walk off the pitch but I will speak with the players about it first."

Jack Grealish harbours ambitions of following in the footsteps of Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney by displaying his talent on an international stage after impressing in England's win over the Czech Republic.

The Aston Villa attacking midfielder was afforded his opportunity to start in the Three Lions' final Euro 2020 Group D fixture, having only appeared as a substitute against Scotland in their opening two matches.

Fans and pundits alike had been clamouring for Grealish to be given a chance and it was the 25-year-old who provided the delicate chipped cross for Raheem Sterling to nod in the only goal in a 1-0 win that secured top spot in the pool.

As well as his assist, Grealish completed 83.3 per cent of his passes in the opposition half, won 62.5 per cent of his duels and drew three fouls for his team – the latter a trait many suggest should see him start more regularly due to England's perceived strength at set-pieces.

Grealish's charisma off the pitch as well as his courageous attacking play on it have drawn comparisons to some of England's stars of the past such as Gascoigne and Rooney, and the man himself is eager to be revered by fans for his displays at the tournament.

"I have spoken about how big these tournaments can be in players' careers," Grealish said in quotes reported by Sky Sports.

"If you look back and think of Gazza at Italia 90, that is where he first made a… well he was obviously still well known before, but I think everyone remembers him for that tournament especially.

"You look at Wayne Rooney in Euro 2004 – I think that was where he set his marker to say I am going to be one of the best in the world.

"I am hoping to follow in their footsteps and hopefully I can do that if I get more chances in this tournament."

 

Grealish made his England bow back in September and has nine caps to his name but has yet to cement his place in Gareth Southgate's starting XI.

The external noise for Grealish to be given a more prominent role only increased after a drab goalless draw against Scotland, but he insists there was no added pressure on his shoulders to perform.

"I don't think it is pressure. I love playing football. That is what I am paid to do. That is what I have been born to do," he added.

"I just play football every day of my life. When I go out there and play it is no pressure on me whatsoever. I go out there and just enjoy myself like I always do.

"I felt like I had a good performance good but I still maybe felt like in the second half I could have got on the ball a little more and probably tried to dictate the game a little more from an England point of view."

Gareth Southgate lauded Bukayo Saka for earning his England chance and grabbing it in Tuesday's Euro 2020 win over the Czech Republic.

Raheem Sterling's 12th-minute goal was enough for the Three Lions to earn top spot in Group D and secure a home last-16 tie at Wembley, even though France, Portugal and Germany comprise a daunting list of potential opponents.

Mason Mount being forced to self-isolate meant Southgate was able to satisfy a national clamour to start Jack Grealish.

The Aston Villa playmaker supplied the cross for Sterling to head his and England's second goal of the tournament and provide flashes of skill to bring the Wembley crowd to their feet.

But it was Arsenal teenager Saka – a surprise inclusion ahead of the likes of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford – who was the most consistently impressive attacker on display, with his driving run and neat close control key in the move for Sterling's winner.

"Bukayo, I can't speak highly enough of him," Southgate said after the winger was named UEFA's Star of the Match.

"He's earned that opportunity. His performances in training since he's joined this camp have been outstanding.

"He played well in the game at the Riverside [a 1-0 win over Austria where Saka scored the winner]. We've talked about playing him in some of the previous matches.

"He earned that chance tonight and he's grabbed it. He was fabulous."

 

While Saka is enjoying his international breakthrough, Sterling has been a mainstay for Southgate.

Patchy form for Manchester City in the second half of this season led to calls for the 26-year-old to be dropped but the England manager's faith never wavered in a player who now has 14 goals for his country since failing to find the net at the 2018 World Cup.

"We always felt that we can’t have all the scoring burden lie with Harry [Kane] and over the past couple of years – probably since the game in Seville [a 3-2 Nations League win over Spain where Sterling scored twice], that was a real lift-off moment for Raheem – he's transferred his club goalscoring form into the matches with us.

"When you can get wide players scoring in that way as well it's a huge lift for the team.

"We've had no doubts about [Sterling], we were very clear on that.

"We know at the end of the season he wasn't necessarily a regular for his club but perhaps we're reaping the benefit of that in that he's a little bit fresher than he might have been."

Harry Maguire headed into the tournament far from fresh, nursing an ankle injury that ruled him out of Manchester United's Europa League final penalty shootout loss to Villarreal.

But the centre-back returned to partner with John Stones and led England to a third clean sheet out of three at Euro 2016, producing an authoritative performance.

"Harry has that presence and composure," Southgate said. "His pass through to Kane in the first half was a fabulous ball through the lines. There aren't many defenders in world football who can do that.

"It was important for him to get those 90 minutes.

Southgate added: "We've noted over the last 12 months and certainly the last six months that when you become the captain of Manchester United the impact that must have on your confidence – the improvement in his leadership and desire to step forward and have an influence on the wider group shines through."

Bukayo Saka says England will be confident of beating whoever comes second in Euro 2020's 'group of death' at Wembley after beating the Czech Republic 1-0 to win Group D.

Raheem Sterling's early header was enough for Gareth Southgate's side to move above their opponents and finish the group stage without conceding a goal, an achievement they have only managed at two previous major tournaments.

The Three Lions will do battle with world champions France, Germany, holders Portugal or Hungary next Tuesday for a place in the quarter-finals.

Versatile Arsenal teenager Saka, so impressive in his first appearance at a major tournament after coming into the side along with Jack Grealish, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker, says home advantage with a crowd of 45,000 can help drive England into the last eight.

He told ITV Sport: "It's really important [to play at Wembley in the last 16]. This is our home. We've won a lot of games here – it's nice to come back here. Whoever we face next, we'll be confident we can beat them."

England came in for criticism following a flat performance in a goalless draw with Scotland last Friday but carried a bigger threat four days later.

The livewire Saka's surging run put the Czech Republic on the back foot in a sweeping move that ended with Sterling nodding home Grealish's cross and the 19-year-old was delighted to grasp his opportunity.

"It was a really good performance from us. We played some really good football at times," said Saka. "With us already having qualified, we had more freedom to express ourselves. That showed in some of the football we played.

"The manager told me to go out and express myself, to play how I have played for my club all season. Sometimes that means driving at the opponents and I did that and got us up the pitch.

"It was a good cross from Jack for the goal and Raheem was in the right place at the right time again. I was up there but not quite tall enough.

"It is important to be here at Wembley for the round of 16. We have won here a lot. With our fans it is an extra man for us. I can only give my best when I am on the pitch."

The Czech Republic finished in third place below Croatia – 3-1 winners over Scotland – on goals scored and will face the Netherlands or the winners of Group E.

England progress on the back of keeping clean sheets in every group stage match at a major tournament for only the third time, also doing so at the 1966 World Cup (three matches) and in the second group stage of the 1982 World Cup (two matches).

England, Croatia and the Czech Republic are all heading into the last 16 of Euro 2020 following their respective results on Tuesday, but it was an unhappy evening for Scotland.

Gareth Southgate's Three Lions did what was required to secure top spot, knowing that anything other than a victory would have seen the Czech Republic go through as Group D winners.

At Hampden Park it was a straight shootout between Croatia and Scotland, with the victors prolonging their tournament or both departing early in the event of a draw.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform reviews the best facts from Group D's conclusion.

Czech Republic 0-1 England: Three Lions in historic progression despite struggles in front of goal

Much was made of England's toothless showing in the 0-0 draw with Scotland, with Harry Kane bearing the brunt of the criticism.

They were a little more effective against the Czechs as they at least managed to find the net once, and that was all they needed to reach the knockout stages of the Euros for their fourth consecutive tournament participation (2004, 2012 and 2016).

While Southgate's side played some vibrant football at times, there is still reason for concern in attack – they are the lowest-scoring Euros group winners in the competition's history (two goals).

They failed to attempt a single shot at goal in the second half of a match for the first time since October 2018, with their latest effort falling to Kane in the 26th minute.

Nevertheless, Jack Grealish seemed to justify his selection as he provided the assist for Raheem Sterling's crucial first-half header – the Aston Villa man has set up more goals for England (three) since his debut last September than any other player despite only featuring in nine of their 15 matches in that time.

There seems a strong possibility Grealish has earned his place in the team for the next game, and the same could be said for Sterling, who has now been involved in 20 goals (14 goals, six assists) in his past 19 games for England – he has ended up on the winning side in all 12 matches when finding the net for the national team.

 

Croatia 3-1 Scotland: Clarke's men cannot buck the trend

Scotland were buoyed by their 0-0 draw with England in the previous game, but against Croatia it was a similar story to their Euro 2020 opener against the Czech Republic.

Although Callum McGregor became Scotland's first Euros scorer since June 1996 with his equaliser late in the first half, Croatia's quality shone through in the second period.

Luka Modric put the visitors in front with a gorgeous outside-of-the-boot effort to become Croatia's oldest ever Euros goalscorer (35 years, 286 days) – he also still holds the record for their youngest scorer in the tournament (22y, 73d in 2008).

Ivan Perisic then made sure of the victory towards the end, glancing in a Modric corner to go level with Davor Suker as Croatia's all-time leading scorer at major tournament with nine goals.

It was Croatia's first ever win over Scotland in six meetings and consigned the Scots to successive defeats at Hampden Park for the first time since September 2019.

Scotland have now been eliminated at the group stages in all 11 of their appearances at major tournaments.

 

When Luke Shaw lifted a delightful ball over the top of the Czech Republic defence during the early stages of England's 1-0 Euro 2020 win on Friday, Raheem Sterling was away.

Of course he was. The Manchester City's forwards intelligent, incisive movement has been a vital asset for club and country over the past five years – a period in which he has become one of his country's most decorated footballers in terms of major honours.

But what would happen next?

Could it be as bad as that time he blazed over two clear chances in the Manchester derby on a day City were 2-0 up and set to win the league against their bitter rivals and lost 3-2?

Maybe it would end up as wince-inducing as the open goal he missed when his club crashed out of the Champions League against Lyon in 2020 at the quarter-final stage, or the two-yard miss that persuaded Pep Guardiola to immediately substitute him at Burnley two years earlier?

Or the full campaign at Russia 2018 when he did not find the net during England's run to the semi-finals?

Yes, Sterling misses chances. Quite a lot of quite good ones.

 

According to Opta, he scored 11 but missed 19 of the 'big chances' that fell his way for the Premier League champions in all competitions last season. It was part of the reason Guardiola increasingly left him on the bench.

But Sterling is the sort of player who always comes back for more. The sort who never hides – a quality that starts to look increasingly valuable amid the vicious maelstrom that is England at a major tournament.

Joy delayed but not denied

As it happened, the shot was not one to fit in with that catalogue of misses. Sterling dispatched a deft lob over Tomas Vaclik and was unfortunate to see the effort ricochet clear off the post, continuing a strange quirk for England games in this tournament. In the early knockings versus Croatia and Scotland, Phil Foden and John Stones each rattled uprights.

As was the case in both of those games, even the dour draw with Scotland – where Sterling created the best chance of the night for Mason Mount and had a reasonable late penalty claim rejected – the forward was a nuisance.

Gareth Southgate's decision to bow to the Jack Grealish clamour and give Bukayo Saka a surprise start gave England a little more vibrancy, also allowing Sterling to pester the opposition defence more centrally and ensure Harry Kane was a less isolated figure. The England captain went close but remains without a goal in this tournament. Only one player has manged to score for the Three Lions.

You might struggle to remember Sterling was the matchwinner on the opening weekend against Croatia. Calls for Grealish and the perplexingly sidelined Jadon Sancho have left Sterling as a casualty in the XIs of many a pundit and fan.

 

The 26-year-old's vile treatment by a section of the tabloid press has been well documented. But Sterling scepticism goes far beyond such reactionary outposts.

After his second-half strike sunk Croatia and sent England on their way to top spot in the group, the BBC television interviewer asked whether Sterling had justified his place in the team, despite being the Three Lions' top scorer from open play since Russia 2018.

The Athletic, very much the antithesis of the UK red tops, ran an article in the build-up to the Czech Republic game where eight of its writers picked their England XI. Two featured Sterling.

The annoying one

He is, at times, an annoying footballer. That is not just down to the catalogue of horror misses outlined above.

A source told Stats Perform last year that an aspect of improvement identified for Sterling by Guardiola's coaching staff was his control of the ball, which seems a staggeringly basic thing for a star forward in a high-end football team. There was an example of this when he sold Kalvin Phillips short with a very routine pass after half-time, forcing the Leeds United midfielder into a foul for which he was fortunate not to be booked.

But again, we return to that capacity to make things happen, which feels vital for an England team constructing 90-minute portions where not much happens.

When things do happen, it is thrilling and you wish they happened more often.

Saka tore at the Czech Republic in the 12th minute – left-back Jan Boril will not reflect too fondly upon having shared a pitch with the livewire Arsenal youngster.

His eventual delivery found its way to Grealish, who clipped a delightful left-footed cross to the back post. Sterling couldn't miss. Well, as discussed above, he could. But he didn't, nodding home to stand tall in a time of need for Southgate once more.

Saka and Grealish hogged the initial post-match conversation, not undeservedly. Stones and the returning Harry Maguire marshalled the backline superbly and Luke Shaw impressed going backwards and forwards.

Three clean sheets out of three are not to be sniffed at. But England's tendency for lulls in-game and to trudge through some stodgy moments still feels regrettable given the attacking talent at Southgate's disposal.

 

The Czech Republic were beaten 5-0 in the opening qualifier for Euro 2020 and England looked a team to be feared in a way they don't right now. Sterling, in red-hot form, scored a hat-trick.

Whether his national team are soaring high or quietly plugging, time and again he has shown his worth.

There are plenty of causes for concern around this England team. The man who has scored the winning goal in each of their victories and always makes life miserable for opposition defenders is absolutely not one of them.

Stop dropping Sterling from the XIs you put on Twitter. It makes you look silly.

Raheem Sterling scored his second goal of Euro 2020 as England beat the Czech Republic 1-0 to win Group D and ensure they will play at Wembley in the round of 16.

Sterling headed home in the first half of the Three Lions' final group game to move Gareth Southgate's side above their opponents and set up a showdown with France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary next Tuesday.

The Czech Republic had their chances and must wait to discover their next opponents after slipping to third as a result of Croatia's 3-1 win over Scotland.

Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka impressed as they came into the side along with Harry Maguire, who played 90 minutes on his return from an ankle injury for an England side that have not conceded a goal in the tournament.

The Three Lions started with great intensity and they were almost in front when Sterling lobbed Tomas Vaclik but struck the far post after he was picked out by a clever pass from Luke Shaw.

Sterling did not have long to wait for the opening goal, though, nodding home from close range 12 minutes in when the influential Grealish stood up a delightful cross from the left to the back post in a move that started with an incisive run from Saka.

Vaclik denied Harry Kane with a reflex save following a brilliant pass from Maguire, but the Czech Republic also had their chances in an entertaining first half.

Tomas Holes forced a fine reflex save from Jordan Pickford with a powerful strike and Tomas Soucek flashed a shot just wide, before Kane called Vaclik into action once again.

Both sides made a change at the break, Jordan Henderson replacing Declan Rise and Petr Sevcik on for Jakub Jankto.

The Czech Republic suffered a blow when Jan Boril was booked for a foul on the lively Saka, ruling him out of his side's last-16 tie.

Henderson had a late goal disallowed, but England responded to a lacklustre display in a goalless draw with Scotland with a second 1-0 win of the tournament.

Jack Grealish and Harry Maguire will start England's Euro 2020 Group D match against the Czech Republic at Wembley, with Arsenal's Bukayo Saka a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate's XI.

Grealish was a second-half substitute in England's 0-0 draw against Scotland last Friday and Mason Mount being forced into self-isolation after a coronavirus scare has cleared the way for the Aston Villa favourite to start in the number 10 role.

Raheem Sterling – the scorer of England's only goal in the tournament so far – and captain Harry Kane retain their places, with Saka completing the forward line.

The 19-year-old netted his first international goal in a friendly against Austria earlier this month and is preferred to the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund winger who is yet to feature at Euro 2020 despite 16 goals and 18 assists at club level in 2020-21.

Manchester United skipper Maguire returns to partner John Stones at centre-back following ankle ligament damage and the duo are charged with keeping Golden Boot contender Patrik Schick, the spearhead of an unchanged Czech line-up, quiet.

 

Schick has three goals in two outings so far and a draw will be enough for his country to deny England top spot.

England's fourth and final change from the Scotland match is Kyle Walker's inclusion at right-back, although his Manchester City team-mate Phil Foden is not in the matchday squad, with Southgate electing to rest the playmaker due to a yellow card he collected against Croatia, which put him at risk of suspension for the round of 16.

England duo Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell will miss the match with the Czech Republic and must self-isolate up to and including June 28.

It was confirmed on Monday that the Chelsea players had begun isolating after being deemed close contacts of Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for coronavirus after Scotland's 0-0 draw with England at Wembley last Friday.

The Football Association said the precautions had been taken after consultation with Public Health England, despite both players returning negative PCR and lateral flow test results.

On Tuesday, the FA said Chilwell and Mount will train individually in private areas of England's St. George's Park base, where the rest of the squad will return after their final Group D match with the Czech Republic.

It means that, should England win and top the group, Mount and Chilwell will miss the last-16 match, which takes place on June 29.

If Gareth Southgate's side fail to take three points, they will finish second in the group behind the Czech Republic, meaning their first knockout match will be on June 28.

England said via Twitter: "We can confirm that Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount must isolate up to and including next Monday [28 June]. This decision has been taken in consultation with Public Health England.

"The pair were confirmed overnight as close contacts of Scotland’s Billy Gilmour after his positive test following last Friday's match.

"Chilwell and Mount will isolate and train individually in private areas at England’s training base St. George's Park, with the rest of the squad returning there after tonight's fixture against Czech Republic at Wembley.

"We will continue to follow all COVID-19 protocols and the UEFA testing regime, while remaining in close contact with PHE.

"The entire England squad and staff had lateral flow tests on Monday and all were again negative, as was the case with Sunday's UEFA pre-match PCR tests. 

"Further tests will be carried out as and when appropriate."

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