OPINION | England must act now or risk going home

England beat Slovakia 2-1 after extra time to progress into the quarter-finals of the Euros, in a game that did little to ease any doubts from critics.

Pressure had been mounting on Gareth Southgate and his players leading into the game with many fearing that England didn’t have enough to win the competition. The game started quickly and was end-to-end in the opening exchanges. England looked threatening going forward but vulnerable defensively. Slovakia had been knocking on the door of the England goal and it was therefore no surprise when in the 25th minute Ivan Schranz latched onto a through ball, ran into the box and slotted the ball past Jordan Pickford to make it 1-0.

England’s response after going a goal down was lacklustre and they didn’t even manage a shot on target until the 95th minute, when Jude Bellingham attempted an outrageous bicycle kick that nestled in the bottom right corner of the goal and stopped England from going out with only seconds to spare.

Bellingham’s brilliance

Bellingham’s goal and subsequent celebration, during which he said “who else”, inferring that he is the man for big moments, were symbolic of the way he sees himself. He has the same kind of arrogance that is reminiscent of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. The kind of arrogance that makes a top player. Bellingham has a self belief that England desperately need.

Harry Kane has for years been England’s biggest star, but the fact is that in the biggest moments, be it for Tottenham over the years, or England, he has failed to deliver. He missed the vital penalty against France during the 2022 World Cup quarter-final and he was also non-existent for Tottenham in their 2019 Champions League final defeat to Liverpool.

Bellingham on the contrary, who just celebrated his 21st birthday on Saturday, has already won the Champions League and La Liga in his first season with Real Madrid. For Los Blancos he also decided to shoulder responsibility and step up. They were without a goal scorer having lost Karim Benzema last summer and Bellingham took it upon himself to play a different position, higher up the pitch and became their highest league goal scorer with 19 goals.

Selections issues remain

Southgate once again persisted with Phil Foden at left wing, and once again it failed to work. Foden was anonymous in the game and didn’t manage a successful dribble. This was made worse by the fact that Slovakia’s right back, Peter Pekarik, is 37-years-old and has proven to struggle against pace already in this tournament. This would have been the perfect game for Anthony Gordon, but he didn’t even manage to get on the pitch.

A big criticism of Southgate is that he only made two substitutions before the 94th minute of the game. Fans, pundits and commentators were crying out for changes in the second-half. The players looked dead on their feet and the minutes ticked by, but still nothing changed. Southgate failed to act and England looked set to crash out of the tournament. In truth, the wonder-moment from Bellingham was pure individual brilliance. If it had not happened, the whole country would be lamenting Southgate and asking why he only gave Ivan Toney two minutes to make an impact and left two substitutions unused.

England face their toughest test yet

England’s next test is against Switzerland and it will be their toughest game yet. The Swiss are a level above any of the opposition that England have come up against so far and they have already knocked out Italy and drawn against the hosts Germany. They play out from the back, press high and there is clearly a strong sense of belief in their side.

Switzerland are playing at the top of their game, whilst England are yet to find their feet. Unless Gareth Southgate can sort his side out, this may well be the game that signals the end of England’s tournament.

Japtej Ghura | Get Football

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