Real Madrid announced on Wednesday that Luka Modric and Marcelo have tested positive for coronavirus.

The experienced pair returned positive results in the latest round of routine squad tests and will now self-isolate.

Madrid, who beat Atletico Madrid 2-0 in the derby on Sunday, are next in action on Sunday, when they face Cadiz in LaLiga.

While Marcelo, 33, has started just once for Madrid this season, Modric remains a key part of Carlo Ancelotti's side.

The midfielder, who turned 36 in September, excelled against Atleti as Los Blancos moved eight points clear of Sevilla at the top of the table.

In total, he has played 18 times in all competitions this season.

Madrid face Athletic Bilbao on December 22 before resuming their season away to Getafe on January 2.

Carlo Ancelotti believes Real Madrid are "clear favourites" for the LaLiga title after their convincing 2-0 El Derbi win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

LaLiga leaders Madrid moved 13 points clear of fourth-placed Atleti as goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio stretched their unbeaten league run over their city rivals to 11 games.

It was Madrid's seventh consecutive top-flight win and lifted them seven points clear of Sevilla, although Unai Emery's team do have a game in hand.

Asked about his impact on his team's fine run, Ancelotti told a media conference: "I don't think it's the Ancelotti effect; I have a team that leaves me calm because of what they do on the field.

"They handle the game very well and they have defensive commitment. It's a team, not just high-quality players, and that's the difference.

"We are clear favourites [for the title] because we have done very well, better than others, but we are focused on the next matches because a mental downturn can cost us dearly. This is the only way to get closer to winning.

"Of the team I really like the defensive aspect; it is the one that we have improved the most since the beginning of the season.

"We are more solid. Although the pressure is not too high, with a lower block we use the forwards for the counter-attacks."

Ancelotti was fulsome in his praise of Luka Modric after another supreme display from the veteran midfielder.  

The Croatia international made a joint-team high three interceptions and completed 90.1 per cent of his passes, with his all-round display leaving his boss purring.

"I have congratulated him on the game because he was incredible," Ancelotti added.

"I don't know what I said, but he was spectacular with and without the ball. It was extraordinary. 

"He had a spectacular game, with personality and character. He is an extraordinary player."

 

Both of Madrid's goals were created by Vinicius Junior, with the Brazil international becoming the first player to provide two assists in a LaLiga clash between Madrid and Atleti in the 21st century.

"He is improving himself," Ancelotti explained. "I don't talk to him much because I don't have much to say to him; he just needs to make it effective. 

"I tell him he doesn't have to dribble to do it. You have to do something to help the team and he has made two assists that have helped us win the game."

The calendar says Christmas is still two weeks away, but the festivities have begun for Real Madrid.

A comfortable, classy 2-0 Derbi victory over Atletico Madrid put them eight points clear at the top of LaLiga and stretched their winning run to 10 in all competitions.

Beating Atleti also not only ruined Diego Simeone's looming celebration of 10 years in charge, but it also meant Madrid have defeated each of the rest of LaLiga's top seven before they have even reached the halfway stage of the season.

By the time of the Three Kings celebrations across Spain in the first week of January, Madrid might already be planning their title parade in the spring, so comfortable does their advantage at the top appear. This is not the best Real Madrid, not even the best Carlo Ancelotti has coached, but right now, they are untouchable.

And they have their own Reyes Magos: a kingly trio that has carried the team from one victory to the next, and that looked positively regal at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Madrid are the first team in Europe's top five leagues this season with two players to score at least 10 league goals, and it was fitting – inevitable, perhaps – that they would combine to slap down a bold Atleti's early signs of promise.

Luka Modric – we'll come back to him – intercepted Koke's pass, Casemiro found Karim Benzema, and suddenly they were away. Vinicius Junior collected Marco Asensio's throughball, looked up, and played an inch-perfect cross.

Only one man from LaLiga has more assists than the Brazilian in all competitions this term, and it's the man who met his delivery on the volley with such supreme skill and precision. Benzema now has 36 goals in 2021, his best return in a calendar year, and three in four games against Atleti. A week away from his 34th birthday, he continues to define and defy the expectations of Real Madrid in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo years; the striker who made Ronaldo tick is the one who proves Madrid can tick without Ronaldo.

Still short of full fitness, Benzema was replaced at half-time, his decisive work done. On came Luka Jovic, who produced an expert piece of hold-up play to send Madrid on their way to their second goal, Vinicius again providing the cross for Marco Asensio. So often accused of never doing it, it feels like Vinicius has only ever played the right ball this season – he has seven assists for 2021-22 now, and is the only player to get two in a single Madrid derby in this century.

And then there's Modric. Of course there's Modric: 36 years old and still dictating derbies with beguiling authority. Two tackles, three interceptions, 35 passes in the Atletico half alone, he seemed a step ahead of every other player, dissipating across the pitch like a high-energy pulse on a wholly different wavelength to the rest. When he faced Joao Felix in his own box, casually stepped across the youngster and stole possession without crossing the touchline, the home fans sang more loudly than they had all evening.

 

It would also be remiss to ignore Thibaut Courtois' contribution. The Belgium goalkeeper is in the form of his life, saving all six shots on target faced here and 11 out of 11 in the past four home league derbies, giving Madrid four consecutive clean sheets in this fixture for the first time. But it's the majesty of Modric, Vinicius and Benzema that looks like continuing this remarkable run.

Madrid face Cadiz, Athletic Bilbao and Getafe before January 6; the hopes of their title challengers may have to be boxed up for another year if Madrid's three kings continue their regal form.

For so long, Paulo Dybala has been tipped to extend his Juventus contract.

However, Dybala is yet to put pen to paper as his current deal winds down.

Liverpool are reportedly monitoring the situation and are ready to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – DYBALA EMERGES AS LIVERPOOL TARGET

Liverpool are interested in signing soon-to-be Juventus free agent Paulo Dybala, according to Calciomercato.

Dybala is out of contract at the end of the season and while there have been negotiations, the Juve star is yet to re-sign in Turin.

The situation has reportedly alerted Premier League giants Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Nacional claims Real Madrid are eyeing Rennes sensation Lovro Majer as the successor to fellow Croatian Luka Modric at the Santiago Bernabeu. Modric is out of contract at season's end and has been linked with Premier League champions Manchester City.

Ousmane Dembele wants to rebuild his career away from Barcelona, reports Mundo Deportivo. The Frenchman has been linked with Manchester United, Newcastle United, Tottenham and Chelsea.

- United forward Edinson Cavani is an option for Barca as they look to bolster their attack, says Mundo Deportivo. Basel's Arthur Cabral has emerged as a possible January option.

Jose Mourinho's job at Roma is not in danger, according to Fabrizio Romano. Roma have only won three of their past nine Serie A fixtures.

- Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana is still set to join Serie A champions Inter despite interest from Barca, per Romano.

- Former RB Leipzig head coach Jesse Marsch is an option to join Ralf Rangnick's coaching staff at United. Marsch was sacked by Bundesliga side Leipzig earlier this week.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted there is still a long way to go in the LaLiga title race after Los Blancos moved eight points clear ahead of next week's derby.

Vinicius Junior and Luka Jovic scored in the second half as leaders Madrid defeated Real Sociedad 2-0 away from home on Saturday.

After defending champions Atletico Madrid were stunned 2-1 by Real Mallorca earlier on Saturday, Ancelotti's men are now 10 points above their city rivals heading into the December 12 derby.

However, Ancelotti knows there is still plenty to play for after 16 rounds, with Atletico boasting a game in hand, while Sevilla – who have also played a match less – sit second in the standings.

"I think it was just a good day for us," Ancelotti told reporters. "The league continues and results have shown that we still know there are a lot of teams that are competing at a high level in this league, but they are very even matches, we're competing at a good level as well.

"Hopefully we can continue. And as for Karim [Benzema], he had a bit of pain early on in the game and he didn't want to aggravate any possible injury, so we opted to replace him. We'll see how he feels in the next few days, but I don't think he'll be able to play on Tuesday, but he could be fit for Sunday."

Pressed on people labelling Madrid champions already and whether it is exaggerated, Ancelotti replied: "Yes, because we are a team that's fighting for the league title and we are first.

"We're playing well, but it's far from over, and I do think we're playing well and we have another big exam in three days time. 

"So today's game is a good performance, but we have to work well in our next fixture. I'm thinking about our next game against Inter [in the Champions League]."

 

Madrid will welcome city rivals Atletico to the Santiago Bernabeu in their next league fixture and Ancelotti added: "We are confident because it's a special game as well, because a derby is always a special game, and in these kind of games there are no favourites.

"So we're going to show our quality against their quality. I think it's going to be a great game, a complicated game as well. And we'll see what happens."

Madrid are the first team from Europe's top five leagues to have two different players with 10 or more league goals this season – Karim Benzema 12 and Vinicius 10.

Vinicius scored the earliest second-half LaLiga goal (46:47) for Madrid away from home since December 2010, when Angel Di Maria netted at Real Zaragoza (46:36) thanks to an assist from Xabi Alonso, the current Real Sociedad B manager.

Meanwhile, Jovic – who replaced the injured Benzema – was also impressive after teeing up Vinicius' opener before scoring a goal of his own.

The last time Jovic had a goal and an assist in the same league game was for Eintracht Frankfurt against Hannover in the Bundesliga in February 2019.

It also meant the Serbia international forward scored and assisted in the same game for the first time in all competitions (41 appearances) and was involved in the same number of goals than in his previous 22 games (one goal and one assist in 462 minutes).

Madrid midfielder Luka Modric praised Jovic, saying: "He put in a very good performance. He provided an assist and scored after having gone a long time without playing. He showed that we can count on him. We're very pleased with his performance and his goal."

Manchester City's forward pursuit has dominated headlines.

Since Sergio Aguero left for Barcelona, Pep Guardiola's champions have been targeting a replacement.

Karim Benzema could reportedly fill the void.

 

TOP STORY – BENZEMA TO CITY?

Manchester City want to sign Real Madrid star Karim Benzema, according to El Nacional.

Premier League champions City are desperate to bolster their attack, having missed out on Tottenham's Harry Kane following the departure of Sergio Aguero at the start of the season.

Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic have been linked, but Benzema – out of contract in 2023 – has emerged as an option.

 

ROUND-UP

- Nicolo Schira claims Bayern Munich are set to battle Chelsea for Federico Chiesa. The Italy international is on loan at Juventus from Fiorentina and set to join the Bianconeri permanently at the end of the season. However, if Juve fail to qualify for the Champions League, rivals could pounce.

Barcelona are eyeing a move for Manchester United forward Anthony Martial, per Mundo Deportivo. Martial has found game time hard to come by at Old Trafford.

- SuperDerpote claims Madrid midfielder Luka Modric would be open to leaving for City. Modric is out of contract at the end of the season. It comes after Marca said Los Blancos are not interested in United star and soon-to-be free agent Paul Pogba.

Marcelo Brozovic is set to re-sign with Serie A champions Inter, according to Tuttosport. Brozovic has been linked with United, Barca and PSG.

Carlo Ancelotti hailed his Real Madrid midfield as the best in the world after Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro turned on the style in a 4-1 win at Granada.

Kroos grabbed his first two assists of an injury-blighted season, while Modric and Casemiro laid on a goal apiece in an impressive rout on Sunday, as Madrid beat Granada for a 13th successive time in LaLiga.

The last time Granada scored a home win over Madrid was in February 2013, when they won 1-0 thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo own goal, his only such blunder in 292 appearances in the Spanish top flight.

There was no danger of a repeat as Madrid grabbed this game by the scruff of the neck and were 3-1 up and chasing more goals by the time their hosts had Monchu sent off for a wild challenge on Vinicius Junior.

Marco Asensio, Nacho, Vinicius and Ferland Mendy got the goals, but Madrid's midfield three were outstanding, as Ancelotti admiringly acknowledged after the game.

With Real Sociedad only able to draw against Valencia in the evening game, it meant Madrid finished the weekend on top of the table by one point.

"What can you say," Madrid head coach Ancelotti told reporters. "They're playing at a very high level and are still the best midfielders in the world for me. They're doing things that I don't even ask from them, they do it naturally, and it's a big advantage for this club.

"They are the past, present and the future. If we're talking about the near future, absolutely. If we're looking in 10 years' time, then perhaps not. But we're in good shape for the future because [Eduardo] Camavinga, [Federico] Valverde and [Antonio] Blanco are ready too.

"They're used to playing together and they have qualities which are hard to explain. The way they switch positions during the game, sometimes Modric drops deep to play through the press and sometimes it's Kroos, Casemiro moves forward."

Kroos created a game-high four chances and finished the game with a passing accuracy of 97.4 per cent.

Madrid could have had more goals, but Granada goalkeeper Luis Maximiano made five saves. It was the fourth time this season the young Portuguese has made five saves or more in a LaLiga game, and only Espanyol's Diego Lopez has done so on more occasions (seven).

Ancelotti included Nacho at centre-back out of a wish to give Eder Militao a rest. He substituted the lively Vinicius late on, too, but stressed that was not due to injury but out of a wish to protect the young Brazilian.

"I took Vini Jr [off] to avoid any issues," Ancelotti said, quoted on Madrid's website. "The game was heating up, for us and for Granada I thought it was best to take him off."

It appears Raheem Sterling's future is away from Manchester City.

Down the pecking order, Sterling has been linked with Barcelona.

City, however, are believed to want a player as part of any deal.

 

TOP STORY – STERLING OUT, TER STEGEN IN?

Manchester City are interested in a swap deal that could see Raheem Sterling move to Barcelona in exchange for Marc-Andre ter Stegen, according to El Nacional.

Barca are reportedly trying to bring Sterling to Camp Nou, with the England international struggling for regular game time at the Premier League champions.

Pep Guardiola had previously tried to bring Frenkie de Jong to Manchester but Barca were not keen, though the City manager is now interested in goalkeeper Ter Stegen – who has been linked with Bayern Munich in the past.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid plan to extend Luka Modric's contract for one more season, reports Marca. The 36-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season. He has previously been linked with Milan and Inter.

- Diario AS claims Barcelona are eyeing a move for Spain and Chelsea star Cesar Azpilicueta. The 32-year-old is out of contract at season's end.

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims Milan are accelerating their efforts to sign Lille and Portugal star Renato Sanches. It comes amid uncertainty over soon-to-be free agent Franck Kessie, who is tipped to leave Milan following reported interest from the likes of Manchester UnitedBarcaParis Saint-GermainTottenham and Inter. Sanches has also been suggested as a target for Liverpool and Wolves.

- Calciomercato claims CityLiverpoolJuventus and Roma are targeting Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria.

- Serie A champions Inter are pushing to sign Eintracht Frankfurt's Filip Kostic, per Gazzetta dello sport. Inter tried to prise the winger from Eintracht at the start of the season.

Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland? How about both? The questions are the same as Real Madrid enter each transfer window. As in 2020, though, such queries are wholly unrealistic.

Prior to last season, which began just six months into the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid were not able to make a single first-team signing. Their most significant business was the €40million sale of Achraf Hakimi to Inter.

It is a similar story 12 months on, having failed to deliver silverware in front of an empty Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. Free agent David Alaba is Los Blancos' sole recruit and even his arrival is offset by the departures of fellow centre-backs Sergio Ramos – at the end of his contract – and Raphael Varane – with a sale to Manchester United agreed for €50m.

Financial results earlier this month reported a loss in revenue of "close to €300m" due to the pandemic. A post-tax profit of €874,000 for 2020-21 was achieved due to "intense spending saving measures in all areas", read a statement, which added: "With regard to the economic situation, current forecasts indicate that the recovery from the pre-pandemic situation will not be immediate. In this context, the club will continue in the effort so far to contain spending."

One of the world's grandest clubs are doing things on the cheap. A change of coach was only initiated by Zinedine Zidane, whose replacement, Carlo Ancelotti, has been plucked from mid-table Everton – although Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri claimed this week he was offered the position.

Ancelotti has been here before, of course, having led Madrid to 'La Decima' in 2013-14 after a 12-year wait. How he raises the club again without this time breaking the world transfer record two months into the role is another question – one Stats Perform attempts to answer with the aid of Opta data.

Return of rapid Real?

Just as Ancelotti is returning to Madrid, so too is Gareth Bale. It was he who Madrid splashed out €100m on to inspire Ancelotti's first side to Champions League glory. Now he could be handed a starring role again.

The winger appeared to have no future under Zidane but will surely be the chief beneficiary if Ancelotti returns the team to the attacking approach he employed previously at the Santiago Bernabeu. Across his two seasons at the helm, Madrid scored 222 LaLiga goals – 22 more than across the past three campaigns combined now.

That would mean a significant shift, though. Zidane's men have not just scored fewer goals, they have moved at a slower pace. Madrid averaged 4.7 passes and 12.7 seconds per sequence in the league in 2020-21, with 662 open-play sequences of 10 passes or more. In 2013-14, with Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria leading a rapid forward line, Madrid's sequences typically lasted only 3.9 passes and 10.3 seconds, with just 475 10-plus pass sequences. Those numbers only marginally increased in Ancelotti's second season.

 

This change in style is also evidenced by Madrid's direct speed, having moved 1.93 metres upfield per second in 2013-14 but just 1.41 in an average sequence last term. Making the most of the attributes of Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria, that Madrid team had 122 direct attacks but only 112 build-up attacks – figures that have altered drastically in opposite directions to 87 and 165 respectively.

The football under Ancelotti was undoubtedly exciting and appeals again. Even as he was sacked in 2015, president Florentino Perez said: "The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him." Implementing that system again may not be entirely straightforward, though.

Ancelotti arrived in 2013 only a year removed from the 121-goal 2011-12 LaLiga campaign – the most Madrid have ever scored in a season. The Italian gave his superstars the freedom to play but did not need to reconfigure their approach. That tallies with the rest of a glittering career to date, which has chiefly seen him credited with man-managing big names rather than introducing the sort of tactical tweaks that might almost double a team's attacking output.

If that is Ancelotti's desire, though, between Bale, Vinicius Junior and Eden Hazard, Madrid should at least still have the players to tear through teams at pace. Indeed, getting Hazard fit and firing two years and four goals into his LaLiga career will be as crucial as rehabilitating Bale. The former Chelsea forward may put the famed 'diva whisperer' to the test, but Madrid cannot afford to have a €100m man not contributing.

Age is against Ancelotti

Madrid's play without the ball has also changed in the time Ancelotti has been away, and getting them to perform in this regard as they did during his first stint will be more difficult still. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro – Madrid's long-standing midfield trio – were on board when Ancelotti left the club six years ago. Modric will be 36 in September. Class and experience are on their side, but the energy of youth is not.

With Di Maria occupying a key role in the 4-2-3-1 formation and Modric finding his feet in Spain, Madrid pressed relentlessly in 2013-14. Opponents were allowed only 9.3 passes per defensive action (PPDA) amid Los Blancos' 499 pressed sequences. As a result, Madrid's attacks started 42.3 metres upfield on average, boosted by their 179 high turnovers, of which 45 led to shots and nine to goals.

Even Ancelotti could not maintain these standards the following year, as Di Maria departed for the Premier League while a thigh injury restricted Modric to 16 games. Madrid regressed in every category.

In 2021, it is not that Madrid do not press, it is that they do not do so with the same intensity. There were 430 pressed sequences last term and still an impressive 178 high turnovers, but opponents were allowed 11.3 PPDA, with Madrid unable to harry at a comparable rate. It is unlikely that statistic improves as Kroos also moves through his thirties and yet more minutes are pumped into the legs of one of modern football's great midfields. The emergence of Federico Valverde – young and versatile – helps, but Ancelotti may well face the unenviable task of dismantling a unit he helped put together.

 

Alaba alters the complexion

To this point, with a former coach returning to guide the same players, Madrid's approach appears closer to devolution than evolution or revolution. The defence at least will ensure this team has a new sheen, albeit not one that necessarily improves Ancelotti's chances of success at home or abroad.

Alaba is a fine player with vast experience, six years younger than Ramos but with 10 Bundesliga titles and two Champions League triumphs to his name. It is a like-for-like change that makes sense, even with Ramos' emotional ties to the Bernabeu. However, asking Alaba to also replace Varane, the outgoing captain's stalwart defensive partner, feels like a tough ask.

Rather than settle into a new club in a new country alongside a World Cup winner – "Varane, of course, I would like to play with him," Alaba said as recently as last week – Madrid's sole signing seems set to be asked to perform the role of the senior man alongside Eder Militao, who has made just 23 LaLiga starts across two seasons.

Yet Militao crucially has attributes Alaba does not, with the converted full-back far less combative than the two departed defenders. At Bayern, in the Bundesliga last season, Alaba contested only 5.0 duels per 90 minutes – fewer than Varane (5.4), Ramos (6.4) and Militao (7.9) in LaLiga. He won just 55.4 per cent of those, another low as Varane (67.9 per cent) led the way.

Militao could then be tasked with getting tight to opposition forwards, but Alaba might find it tougher to avoid being picked on in the air. He contested a meagre 1.2 aerial duels per 90, down on 2.3 for Varane, 4.3 for Ramos and 5.2 for Militao. As Varane won a league-leading 76.0 per cent of these duels and Ramos came out on top in 63.8 per cent, opponents faced a scrap against either centre-back. Alaba's 51.4 per cent success rate shows why he tends to avoid such encounters.

An area of real strength for Madrid could now become a weakness. Only Sevilla (four) conceded fewer headed goals than Madrid (five) in the league last term, while Real Betis (five goals conceded) were the sole side to be tighter from set-pieces than Zidane's outfit (six). With Ramos and Varane marshalling the area, Madrid faced the fourth-fewest headed attempts (58). They are unlikely to rank as impressively again with 5ft 11in Alaba at the heart of the defence.

Madrid are unlikely to make the most of Alaba's versatility – well stocked at left-back but now short in the middle of the back line – yet his ability on the ball, honed in different roles, should at least help to keep Ancelotti's men on the front foot. Part of a dominant Bayern team, Alaba was involved in 4.6 shot-ending sequences and 0.7 goal-ending sequences per 90, having a bigger hand in such opportunities than Ramos (3.9 and 0.4) or Varane (2.9 and 0.3).

Being able to start attacks from the back plays into the idea Madrid should be set up to again thrill supporters under Ancelotti. Whether they can combine entertainment with results, as the 2013-14 team did so successfully, might be another matter.

Fifty-four passes. In two minutes and 41 seconds of unbroken possession during the closing stages of their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark, England moved to the brink of a 2-1 win in beautifully assured fashion with a 54-pass move. Over the course of the entire additional half hour, they completed 198 passes – more than the Three Lions managed in the entirety of the 1-0 Euro 2000 win over Germany.

Thirty-eight passes. Five days later in the final, Gareth Southgate's team could only manage 38 successful passes in the entire first half of extra time against Italy. That ticked up to 47 during the final 15 minutes of the 1-1 draw but still stood in stark contrast to the supreme example of modern, pro-active game management from the preceding midweek.

Southgate has overseen a period of unprecedented progress during his time in charge of international football's most maligned underachievers. A final for the first time since 1966, back-to-back semi-finals for the first time since 1968. As a major tournament force, England are stronger than they have been at any time over the past half a century by some distance.

But large chunks of Sunday's final defeat to Roberto Mancini's brilliant side felt like they had been transplanted from the bad old days, long before a penalty shoot-out concluded a tale of heartbreak. The lack of control and accompanying slow, sinking feeling could have belonged to any era.

By the final whistle, Italy had completed 820 passes to England's 426. As well as being common to England setbacks of yesteryear, there was also a repeated pattern from two of Southgate's previously most notable defeats in charge. Dictating the terms against elite opponents and being able to wrestle back control during moments of high stress represents something of a final frontier with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar a little over 16 months away.

Verratti and Jorginho torment England like pass masters Modric and De Jong

Leonardo Bonucci scrambled in Italy's equaliser after 67 minutes at Wembley, Luke Shaw having given England a second-minute lead.

When Southgate's team went down to a 2-1 semi-final defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Kieran Trippier's free-kick put them ahead in the fifth minute before Ivan Perisic equalised in the 68th and Mario Mandzukic won it in extra time.

In between those two games, England faced the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League. Marcus Rashford put them ahead from the penalty spot – yes, he's normally excellent at those – before Matthijs de Ligt equalised in the 73rd minute and the Dutch pulled clear in the first additional period.

First-half leads cancelled out by 67th, 68th and 73rd-minute goals can, of course, just be a coincidence. But England gradually ceded control in each match, conceded and never truly reasserted themselves.

 

On Sunday, Italy had deep-lying playmaker Jorginho and the masterful Marco Verratti calling the tune, while two years earlier the Netherlands had Frenkie de Jong and in Moscow, Luka Modric was at the peak of his powers. Each time, there was a level of midfield expertise to which England had no sufficient answer.

Raw passing statistics can sometimes be misleading. If a central defender racks up more passes than his team-mates – as Bonucci did at Wembley – it does not mean they are the best passer on the field, more that they have a higher frequency of simple passes to make due to their position.

But in the heat of a midfield battle, a player being able to compile pass after pass suggests they might be dictating terms.

At the Luzhniki Stadium, Modric made 71 passes, slightly fewer than his colleagues in the Croatia engine room Marcelo Brozovic (87) and Ivan Rakitic (84). England's starting midfield three – admittedly not a trio who matched up entirely with Croatia in a positional sense – of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard managed 48, 47 and 38 respectively.

If Modric led an ensemble performance, De Jong conducted England all by himself in Guimaraes a year later. The Barcelona midfielder made 104 passes over the course of 120 minutes, with England's starting midfielders Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley managing 54, 24 and 56. Only Barkley saw the final whistle, while De Jong's passing accuracy of 96.2 per cent was almost identical to Rice (96.3) at nearly twice the output.

Paired with Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips, Rice had another tall task when taking on Jorginho and Verratti. Once again, it was a case of England chasing around after accomplished technicians.

Paris Saint-Germain's Verratti was in majestic form as he turned the contest in the Azzurri's favour. Of his 118 passes, 111 were successful and 72 came in the England half. Chelsea's Jorginho was similarly efficient with 94 out of 98 completed. Even allowing for Rice's 74th-minute substitution, the Opta statistics for himself (33 passes, 25 completed) and Phillips (39 passes, 30 completed) tell the story of their and England's night.

 

No passing, please, we're English

Despite the weekend sense of déjà vu, it is only fair to credit England with progress when coming up against technically superior midfields.

They gained a measure of revenge against Croatia, who they also beat en route to their Nations League date with the Netherlands, during the group stage and similarly shackled Germany – Toni Kroos, Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and all – in a 2-0 last-16 win.

As he did against Die Mannschaft, Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 for Italy and the formation initially overwhelmed Mancini's men, who were attacked repeatedly down their flanks.

This served to remove Italy's midfield superiority as a major factor in the contest until after half-time. Some have criticised Southgate for not being pro-active when the tide began to turn, failing to send on attacking threats such as Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish to give the Azzurri new and different problems.

While those suggestions are valid, it is also fair to ponder whether England would simply have had fresh-legged spectators to the Verratti-Jorginho show. Studying data from the Premier League and across Europe's major divisions this season, it can be concluded that changing formation, funnelling play out wide and pressing judiciously are all work-arounds Southgate and his coaching team have developed for a problem to which they don't have a direct remedy.

 

In England's top flight in 2020-21, Manchester City's Rodri averaged the most passes per 90 minutes of midfielders to have made 20 or more appearances with 91.24. Next on the list were Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (87.23), Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (83.32) and Manchester United's Nemanja Matic (83.05), with Jorginho rounding out the top five on 79.68.

Considering players who featured at least 25 times in all competitions across the big five leagues, Verratti comes in second with a fairly absurd 96.86, from Sergio Busquets (94.63), Rodri and Kroos (88.37).

Miralem Pjanic's debut season at Barcelona was an utterly forgettable affair and one that could not be saved by him tiki-takaing himself to a standstill with 104.29 passes every 90 minutes. High passing numbers do not always mean a stand-out performer but illustrate a certain type of player – a type not readily available to Southgate.

Discounting Henderson's 92.85 per 90, given he played so often in 2020-21 at centre-back (meaning he was also ruled out of the Premier League rankings, having finished top at 95.69 from 21 outings), you have to scroll a decent way down this Europe-wide list to find some English representation.

The Premier League supplied three of last season's four European finalists and all of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United boasted brilliant English players who were pivotal to their success. But in each case, overseas players were entrusted with the midfield duties that generally undo England.

Yet, in some respects, Qatar 2022 is further away than it might seem. If Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020, it is more likely Shaw, Kyle Walker and John Stones would have missed out on the squad rather than made up three-quarters of Southgate's first-choice defence. Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Reece James, Conor Coady, Jude Bellingham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phillips and Grealish had not made their international debuts this time last year.

A lot can change between then and now, so who might emerge as a king of control for Southgate?

 

A nudge from Winks? Skipp to it?

The highest ranked English midfielder on the top-five leagues list is Tottenham's Harry Winks, who averaged 71.47 passes every 90 minutes over the course of 28 appearances.

Only 15 of those were in the Premier League and nine were starts. Getting regular football, largely due to a succession of injury problems, has been a problem for the 25-year-old, who is now being linked with a move away from Spurs.

However, Southgate is a fan and is responsible for giving Winks all 10 of his England caps to date. A Shaw-style renaissance is certainly possible.

One factor that might cause him to seek pastures new is Oliver Skipp's return to Tottenham from a successful loan spell at Norwich City.

While helping the Canaries to promotion from the Championship, the 20-year-old averaged 58.52 passes per 90. Nowhere near the towering numbers posted by Europe's best but the third highest among midfielders to have played 30 or more times in a competition of a very different nature.

Skipp has represented England at under-21 level and the pathway from there to the seniors is clear in the Southgate era.

Winks was the only English midfielder to average above 70 passes per 90 on our European list, although Curtis Jones (68.04) – hoping for a more prominent role at Liverpool this season – and provisional Euros squad member James Ward-Prowse (64.75) are other options who might treat the ball with a little more TLC.

 

Can the men in possession be better in possession?

It might seem perverse to say England need to vastly improve their control in midfield, while claiming Rice and Phillips each had fine tournaments, but both statements are true.

Southgate is not averse to hard-nosed selection decisions but whatever the formation or opponent, the West Ham and Leeds favourites started each match in central midfield. Rice's 12 interceptions were only bettered by Jorginho (25) and N'Golo Kante (14), while the Italy lynchpin recovered possession 48 times – shading Phillips (45) and lying behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (51).

With the ball, they did not perform their deep-lying roles like Jorginho or De Jong – even allowing for some of Rice's ravishing first-half dribbles in the final – because they were not asked to. Which leads to the obvious question: could they do it?

Plenty of good judges certainly seem to hold Rice in that regard, as evidenced by persistent links to Chelsea and Manchester United. He averaged 47.7 passes per 90 minutes last season and, for all that they enjoyed a brilliant season under David Moyes, West Ham's average possession figure of 42.53 was the sixth lowest in the division.

To understand the full range of Rice's prowess and potential to be England's metronome, it might be necessary to view him on a weekly basis in a different setting.

The same need not be said for Phillips, who did not pick up his "Yorkshire Pirlo" nickname on account of interceptions or recoveries. Control is not always the primary aim of Marcelo Bielsa's high-intensity and ravenous pressing style, all whirring parts and thrills, but Phillips averaged 52.02 passes per 90 last term in the Premier League.

Again, this is not up there with the elite distributors in Europe, but it is a useful return at odds with his 39 passes over the course of 120 minutes versus Italy.

 

Bridging the gr-8 divide

At Leeds, Phillips will generally have more forward passing in closer proximity than those that were granted to him at Wembley on Sunday. This is where the configuration of Southgate's midfield is worth consideration.

It will be intriguing to see whether he returns to a 4-3-3 with two number eights as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 with two holders and a 10 when England resume World Cup qualifying in September.

The defeat to a De Jong-inspired Netherlands and a wild 5-3 Euros qualifying win over Kosovo later in 2019 were influential in the England boss choosing a more cautious approach for Euro 2020, shelving an expansive 4-3-3.

A run to the final without conceding a goal from open play means that decision cannot really be disputed. But perhaps this newfound defensive solidity means the shackles can be loosened once more, allowing more attack-minded players to operate centrally.

The control that eluded England in the matches discussed above was not simply as a result of metronomic passing. De Jong (16) was second only to Raheem Sterling (20) for dribbles completed at Euro 2020, while Verratti had three carries resulting in a chance. Five from Hojbjerg, Lorenzo Insigne and Gareth Bale topped the list in the competition.

Ability to carry the ball, both to ease pressure through linking the play along with creating chances, sounds like quite a good description of Foden. The Manchester City youngster's injury absence felt more regrettable as the final pressed on.

In pre-recorded introductions for ITV's Euro 2020 coverage, Foden described himself as a central midfielder. It is where he played the vast majority of his youth football for City and during most of his early first-team outings.

But in a 2020-21 campaign when it was hoped he would step forward as David Silva's playmaking replacement, he in fact filled the void left by Leroy Sane and turned in electrifying performances on the left wing.

 

"Phil just needs time to improve playing inside," Pep Guardiola said when discussing Foden's positional change earlier this year.

"When you play as a winger you have to play at one tempo and when you play inside you have to play in another one. When he gets this balance he will be 10 times more extraordinary as a player. It’s just a question of time."

Southgate will have an eye on that ticking clock and also how Mason Mount is used by another esteemed tactician. The Chelsea youngster has played as an eight for club and country but was used almost exclusively in the front three after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and plotted a path to Champions League glory.

There are few English players more elegant and effective when it comes to running with the ball at his feet than Grealish. In 2020-21, international team-mate Harry Maguire and Leeds full-back Luke Ayling were the only English players to have more than his 172 instances of carrying the ball towards goal for 10 metres or more. Mount (138) came seventh on that progressive carries list.

But, like Foden and Mount, most of Grealish's best recent work has come in the forward line. The likes of Verratti and De Jong are masters of their craft because they play in their position every week.

Still, dropping one of his twinkle-toed playmakers a touch deeper might become an irresistible work-around, especially if paired with a Henderson back to his talismanic best in central midfield for Liverpool. In 2019-20 he was the heartbeat of the side that won the Premier League, averaging 74.44 passes per 90 into the bargain. Suffering against Modric and Croatia before failing to stem the tide when short of match fitness versus Italy should not cloud perceptions of the 31-year-old's supreme qualities.

Then there is the tantalising prospect of Bellingham's next stage of development under the highly regarded Marco Rose at Borussia Dortmund. The 18-year-old could be frighteningly good by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. If Southgate can hit upon a formula for midfield that can both dictate and create, we could be able to say the same for England.

Sergio Busquets believes Spain are growing stronger by the game at Euro 2020 after La Roja defeated Croatia 5-3 in a European Championship classic to reach the quarter-finals.

Luis Enrique's side won their first knockout game at a major tournament since winning Euro 2012 nine years ago, triumphing in a thrilling contest at Parken Stadium on Monday.

Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres were all on target to give Spain a commanding 3-1 lead after Pedri's bizarre own goal from 49 yards had put Croatia ahead.

But substitute Mislav Orsic scored one and set up another for Mario Pasalic in the space of seven minutes late on in Copenhagen to set up extra time.

It is the just the second time Spain have conceded three goals in their Euros history, but they won the match through extra-time strikes from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal, both goals set up by substitute Dani Olmo.

Spain captain Busquets was particularly pleased with the way his side responded to the own goal, with Unai Simon miscontrolling Pedri's backpass and letting the ball roll into his own net.

"Unai knows he's got our total confidence. The goal was bad luck but his mentality is very laidback while remaining ambitious, and he showed that today," Busquets said after collecting the man of the match award at full-time.

"He was ultra-secure after the goal and made some top saves. The team has managed to recover and it is a great victory. This win leaves us good feelings. The team knows what it plays and what it wants. 

"We are a difficult opponent to beat and are growing stronger in this tournament as it goes."

Spain are the first side in European Championship history to score five or more goals in successive games, with five different players registering for La Roja in a single game at a major tournament for the first time.

However, Busquets admits there is room for improvement after giving away a comical opening goal and allowing Croatia a way back into the game when in control with five minutes left.

"We had chances to finish the game off quite early on but we showed character throughout," he said. "When Croatia changed their system, they flooded the pitch high up and we didn't adjust quickly enough.

"Scoring five times and going through still suggests that we have to improve, but to get to the quarter-finals is an indication that we're a good team. 

"We were very good today, very intense, well prepared and we beat a very, very difficult rival here."

Monday's match was the second-highest scoring contest in European Championship history, behind only France against Yugoslavia in the 1960 semi-finals (a 5-4 victory for Yugoslavia).

Croatia ultimately came out the wrong side of the eight-goal classic, and captain Luka Modric accepts his side lacked the quality needed to complete a famous comeback.

"We took the lead from a lucky goal. Afterwards, they were better – at least for the first 60 minutes," he told HRT. "We stood too deep in our half and let them play. 

"When we attacked more, we played better and created more chances and that is where the equaliser came from; when we showed quality and character. 

"At the start of extra time we had them on the ropes but we failed to score from two good chances. Then the game turned around and we didn't have the strength to come back."

We had to wait an extra year, but the Euro 2020 group stage threw up drama and records – and in terms of goals it delivered magnificently.

With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku hitting their stride, it was a feast for the strikers, with 94 goals scored across the 36 games.

That represented a massive raising of the bar after only 69 goals were netted at the same stage in the 2016 tournament.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the most eye-catching numbers that defined the first 13 days of this delayed tournament – ahead of the do-or-die knockout stage getting under way.

 

Ronaldo making up for lost time

Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to score as many as five goals in the group stages of a single European Championship since Michel Platini bagged seven for France in 1984, on his way to a nine-goal tournament tally. Three of Ronaldo's goals for Portugal at this tournament have been penalties, while Platini netted just one spot-kick during France's run 37 years ago.

Impressively, Platini's goals in 1984 came from an expected goals (xG) rate of just 3.32, while Ronaldo has recorded his five from a total of 4.71 so far. Opta builds its expected goals data by measuring the quality of an attempt based on variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal, whether it was a headed shot and whether it was defined as a big chance. It means Ronaldo has put away approximately the number of goals he should have expected to score.

Ronaldo scored twice from the penalty spot in Wednesday's 2-2 draw with France, the first game in the history of the Euros to see three spot-kicks scored, excluding shoot-outs.

Defending champions Portugal have been far from perfect, however, dropping a competition-high five points from winning positions.

While Ronaldo has the most goals of any player so far in these finals, he has not been able to keep up with the rising tide of own goals. There have been a staggering eight, as many as were scored between the 1980 and 2016 editions combined.

 

Firing range

Why wait until seeing the whites of the goalkeeper's eyes before offloading a shot?

Patrik Schick had one quick glance towards David Marshall's goal and let fly from 49.7 yards at Hampden Park to put the Czech Republic 2-0 in front against Scotland. That incredible moment gave Schick the longest-range strike on record at the European Championship, with such measured distances available from the 1980 tournament onwards.

There were 304 shots from outside the penalty area in the group stage, but only 12 goals scored from such long range. That ratio of one goal for every 25.3 shots from long distance was nevertheless an improvement on the Euro 2016 numbers, when just 16 goals from outside the area were scored from 638 attempts across the whole tournament – one every 39.9 shots.

 

Low Countries, tall targets

Belgium and the Netherlands are nations who have experienced mixed fortunes on the football field in the 21st century, but both will feel a big moment could be arriving.

The Belgian Red Devils were absent from all major tournaments between their appearances at the 2002 and 2014 World Cups, while the Dutch were conspicuous by their absence from Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Lukaku, with three goals so far, has been a terrific spearhead of the Belgium side, netting 50 per cent of the goals their players have netted (excluding own goals) at Euro 2020 despite only taking 22 per cent of their shots – seven of 32 attempts.

If Lukaku keeps firing, with Kevin De Bruyne and co prompting from midfield, then Belgium, who have never won a World Cup or European Championship, have a strong chance to show why they are ranked by FIFA as the world's number one team.

Belgium exceeded their collective xG tally by 3.15 – scoring seven against xG of 3.85 – the highest number by which any side surpassed their expected goals in their opening three games.

Their neighbours, the Netherlands, have also caught the eye. Ronald Koeman lifted the Oranje from their doldrums and successor Ronald de Boer has guided the team through the group stage as top scorers and with a 100 per cent record.

That Group C success, with eight goals scored and two conceded, came on the back of Georginio Wijnaldum scoring three times. In doing so, he has overtaken Marco van Basten and Dirk Kuyt on the list of the Netherlands' leading international goalscorers, moving to 25, one ahead of the former Milan and Liverpool forwards.

Or, to put it another way, Wijnaldum is halfway to matching Robin van Persie's record haul of 50 international goals.

 

Boring, boring England?

England, by netting only twice, became the lowest-scoring side to ever finish top of a group at a European Championship. They did not so much storm through Group D as plod a methodical path through to the last-16 stage, although an xG of 4.45 suggests England have at least been creating chances, albeit not finishing as well as they might.

Yet England might yet go far. Germany visit Wembley next Tuesday and will encounter English players who have only been dribbled past 12 times in the group stage, the lowest number among all competing teams. England's expected goals against (xGA) tally is a miserly 1.33, the second lowest in the tournament behind an Italy side (1.3) who have got it right at both ends of the pitch to.

Turkey's players were dribbled past on 36 occasions, a group-stage high, and only North Macedonia (8.85) had a higher xGA than Senol Gunes' team (7.69), who failed to live up to 'dark horse' expectations.

 

Riding their luck? Or being all out of it?

Wales conceded just twice, defying an xGA total of 5.47, and reached the knockout stage on the back of that. The gap of 3.47 between expectation and reality with that metric was the highest among all competing teams.

Conversely, Scotland scored just once against an xG of 4.00 – with 3.00 the highest negative difference between xG and goals scored.

Russia bowed out, and could hardly blame anyone but themselves. Their players made three errors leading to goals – more than any other side and the joint-most by any nation at a finals going back to 1980, the point from which records are available.

Hungary also exited the tournament. They predictably finished last in the 'group of death' – adrift of France, Germany and Portugal – but Hungary were surprisingly ahead for more minutes and trailed for fewer than any other team in that Group F campaign.

Denmark squeezed through in second place behind Belgium in Group B, becoming the first team in European Championship history to reach the knockout stages of the competition having lost their first two group stage games. After the alarm of the Christian Eriksen situation, many would love them to go further.

Would you Luka that!

Luka Modric became the oldest player to score for Croatia at the Euros, netting a gorgeous strike in the 3-1 win against Scotland at the age of 35 years and 286 days. That made it an unusual double for the veteran playmaker, who also holds the record for being Croatia's youngest scorer at the tournament (22 years 73 days versus Austria in 2008).

Modric continues to marvel, and there was a slice of history for another midfielder in the group stage as Switzerland's Steven Zuber became only the third player since 1980 to register three assists in a single European Championship game – doing so against Turkey – after Portugal's Rui Costa in his rampaging 2000 display that tormented England and Denmark's Michael Laudrup in 1984 against Yugoslavia.

Steve Clarke spoke of his pride after Scotland's first major tournament appearance in 23 years ended in a 3-1 defeat to Croatia.

But the 57-year-old also shared his belief that the disparity in tournament experience between the two sides was a decisive factor in the Scots exiting Euro 2020 at the group stage.

Having picked up just a point from their opening two games, both Scotland and Croatia needed a win at Hampden Park to secure a place in the round of 16.

And it was the visitors who got it, with Nikola Vlasic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic goals rendering a Callum McGregor equaliser - the first Scottish European Championship goal since Ally McCoist against Switzerland on June 18, 1996 - irrelevant.

Reflecting on the defeat, Clarke told ITV: "I'm proud of the players, the fact they managed to get here for the first time in 23 years, that was a big thing for the country, a big thing for this group of players. 

"I think you saw tonight a team that's tournament-hardened, Croatia, against a team at their first tournament in a long time. 

"We had a little spell just before half-time when we got the goal and looked exciting but Croatia are a top team and they showed that tonight."

Clarke declared a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in the first group game to be a decisive result in an all-too-brief Scotland campaign.

But he has backed his young squad to learn important lessons from their first major international tournament.

He added: "I think we'll go away and learn from it for sure. Obviously starting on the back foot with losing the first game is something you'd need to address in the next one because that set us up for a difficult one. 

"We left everything on the pitch at Wembley against England on Friday and couldn't quite get it tonight. 

"I think through all the three games they've acquitted themselves well, they've tried their best, showed some good qualities. Obviously, as a coach I don't like to concede so many goals, it's something we have to work on a little bit, but we can improve. 

"We've got young players in the squad, it's a relatively young group of players, and we want to improve together and hopefully we can do that."

Captain Andy Robertson echoed his manager's sentiments and urged his team-mates to turn this into a glorious era for Scotland by ensuring they also qualify for the World Cup in Qatar next year.

He said: "We're a squad that still has a lot of potential, still relatively new to this and not a lot of caps between us and it's important we build on this. 

"It's important we don't take this as the high for this squad because we're a good team on our day and now we need to focus on September. 

"I know it's a long way away, we need to go away on holiday and finally rest, but come September we need to try and qualify for another tournament because it can't go another 23 years. 

"We want to be a team that qualifies for many tournaments and it become the norm that Scotland qualify. 

"That's in our own hands, but we'll think about that another day."

As for the Croatia skipper, Modric, he preferred to revel in his nation sealing safe passage to the knockout stages in second place behind England rather than the wonderful curler he netted to set up the win.

The Real Madrid midfielder is now his country's oldest and youngest ever scorer at a European Championship, having done so at both 35 years and 286 days and 22 years 73 days old.

He told Euro2020.com: "This goal means a lot to me but our play means more, from the beginning until the end. I am happy that my goal helped, but it's most important that the team won.

"We are happy because we played a big match and qualified for the next round.

"We were not happy with performances in the first two matches and we knew we could be better. When we play like this, we are dangerous to everyone."

Croatia secured their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020 and dumped Scotland out as they claimed a 3-1 win in Glasgow.

Having led through Nikola Vlasic's early strike, Zlatko Dalic's men were pegged back before half-time as Callum McGregor notched his country's first Euros goal since 1996.

However, the Croatians' class eventually told, the evergreen Luka Modric netting a stunner before the influential Ivan Perisic headed home from a corner late on, equalling his country's record for the most goals at major tournaments (nine).

And that ensured the visitors clinched second place in Group D while bringing an early end to the Scots' first major tournament appearance since 1998. 

Encouraged by an electric atmosphere at Hampden Park, Scotland made the better start.

But they failed to make the most of their best chance of a frenetic opening period, with Che Adams unable to get a touch on a John McGinn inswinger, allowing Dominik Livakovic to make the save.

And Croatia were not as generous when their first major opportunity came, with Vlasic making the most of space in the box to finish ruthlessly from a Perisic knockdown.

Scotland's chances were dealt a further blow just past the half-hour mark when Grant Hanley limped off, and his replacement Scott McKenna made an inauspicious start that saw a yellow card before a touch of the ball.

However, the Scots levelled things up just before the break when McGregor deftly controlled a panicked clearance before thrashing a low shot into the corner.

With a draw guaranteed to send both sides crashing out, it was no surprise to see them take more chances in looking to carve out attacks in the second period.

Croatia almost made it count when only brave goalkeeping from David Marshall prevented Josko Gvardiol poking home, though the same man was fortunate McGinn could only fire wide after getting on his wrong side moments later.

But it was a moment of sheer quality that eventually broke the deadlock, Modric curling home a beauty with the outside of his boot after slick play around the Scotland box.

The hosts huffed and puffed in the aftermath of that strike but did not really look like scoring before Perisic wrapped things up, flicking a front-post header into the far corner to send his side through.

What does it mean? More to come from Scotland

Although Steve Clarke will have hoped for more, Scotland cannot be too disappointed with their efforts throughout Euro 2020.

Qualifying represented a major achievement in itself, and this young squad will have plenty of opportunities to go one better at major tournaments in the future.

What's next?

England's win over the Czech Republic means Croatia progress as runners-up and will face the team that finishes in the same position in Group E in the last 16, either Sweden, Slovakia, Spain or Poland.

As for Scotland, a first tournament outing in 23 years comes to an end at the group stages.

Luka Modric was left with a "bitter taste" after Croatia had to settle for a 1-1 Euro 2020 draw with the Czech Republic to leave their qualification hopes in the balance.

The 2018 World Cup runners-up were beaten 1-0 by England in their first Group D game and trailed the Czech Republic by the same scoreline at half-time on Friday.

In-form striker Patrik Schick opened the scoring with a controversial penalty after Dejan Lovren appeared to accidentally catch him on the nose with his elbow, referee Carlos del Cerro Grande harshly pointing to the spot following a check on the pitchside monitor.

Ivan Perisic equalised with a rasping drive two minutes into the second half, but Croatia lacked the quality to conjure up a winner at Hampden Park.

Perisic became the first Croatia player to score at four major international tournaments and he may have to come up with something special in Glasgow once again on Tuesday to avoid an early exit.

Croatia face a must-win encounter with Scotland in their final group match and Modric was left to reflect on a missed opportunity.

The captain said: "There is a bitter taste after this match, as we didn't win. We entered the match really disorganised, but then we looked better in the second half.

"We scored that goal and we could have scored even more, but unfortunately we didn't win. Now, we have to defeat Scotland to go through."

Perisic knows Croatia must raise their standards after such a lacklustre start to the tournament.

He said: "We are not playing well, simply not. I don't know the reason. We had a bad start to the match, we scored that goal later, but we have to show much more against Scotland."

The Czech Republic may already have enough points to qualify ahead of their last group game versus an England side that face Scotland at Wembley later on Friday.

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