Young lions take over England

THE FUTURE Jesse Lingard. Picture: Darren Staples
THE FUTURE Jesse Lingard. Picture: Darren Staples

England prepared for their Uefa Nations League tie against Croatia today with a relatively comfortable 3-0 victory over the US in a friendly match at Wembley Stadium on Thursday night.

Goals from Jesse Lingard, Trent Alexander-Arnold and debutant Callum Wilson settled the clash, but left Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate suitably cautious ahead of facing the World Cup runners-up, who emerged as 3-2 winners from their friendly match against Spain.

The game was largely used by Southgate as an opportunity to blood some of England’s young talent, most notably teenage sensation Jadon Sancho, while at the same time being a farewell for Wayne Rooney.

The DC United striker’s inclusion in the squad threatened to distract from the task at hand, but England’s top scorer suitably impressed during a second-half cameo to warrant his selection.

It is this emergence of an abundance of young stars in the England ranks that makes Rooney superfluous to his nation’s needs and provides Southgate with some real options going forward.

In the starting line-up against the US, alongside Borussia Dortmund’s Sancho, was Leicester City left-back Ben Chilwell, Brighton & Hove Albion centre-back Lewis Dunk and Bournemouth striker Wilson.

Meanwhile, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson all rested for the majority for the game.

Southgate admitted that a similar performance against Luka Modric and company would see England soundly beaten.

There were plenty of positives to take from the tie, but Southgate was acutely aware that Croatia would be a far sterner test than a US team that failed to make the World Cup finals, and are a team in transition with an interim manager.

“I didn’t like us without the ball as much. At times we pressed really well, but at times they got through us too easily.

"At the end, we didn’t play with discipline, we were caught in transition and we were wide open. If we do that [today], we will lose.

“If we want to be a top team, we cannot just get to 3-0 ... and not play with intelligence. If we’re going to be ruthless, we have to do that right through the game,” he said.

England were beaten on penalties against Croatia the last time the two sides played each other – in the World Cup semifinals – and a similar result today could see them relegated to Uefa League B, leaving Croatia as Group A4 winners.

A win would give Croatia a spot in the Euro 2020 play-off round, meaning they would skip the group stages.

An England victory over Croatia would take them to next June’s league finals, while a draw would also send the Three Lions down.

Only a goalless draw would see England finish second, meaning they would neither reach the finals nor be relegated.

Southgate concluded: “We’ve got two days to prepare. That was one of the reasons we played the team we did.

"We will look at their game just to see how they approached it against Spain, but we know pretty much all there is to know about Croatia.” TEAMtalk Media

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