LONDON (AP) — With a place in the round of 16 secured before taking to the field again, England has a chance to rediscover its attacking flair against the Czech Republic on Tuesday at the European Championship.
“We’ve got to produce the football that gives the crowd the excitement they want, the results they want,” England coach Gareth Southgate said Monday. “When you’ve had a disappointing performance you want to produce a better level of performance straight away. The players have got the desire to do that. I’ve got the desire to do that."
Since being held to a 0-0 draw by Scotland, Southgate and his players had been trying to assess the team's shortcomings before completing Group D at Wembley Stadium.
“We just weren’t able to break them down, so we’ve talked about that,” Southgate said. “We’ve talked about what we would need to do differently against them or against that type of system in the future. But we play a totally different team and a very good team tomorrow."
The Czech Republic is in first place in Group D, ahead of England on goal difference. The four points the teams have are enough to be certain of at least finishing among the four best third-place teams that qualify for the round of 16.
There will be a return to its home stadium in the next round if England can dislodge the Czech Republic from first place. There would be a trip to Copenhagen if England stays in second.
The one disruption in the England setup is uncertainty over the availability of midfielder Mason Mount, who has started both games so far, and left back Ben Chilwell. They started isolating on Monday as a precaution after being deemed to have had interactions on Friday with Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour, who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We have to accept whatever the the situation is and adapt to it,” Southgate said.
England winger Raheem Sterling feels there was an "over-reaction” after the Scotland result that isn't reflected by the mood in the England camp.
“I just feel there’s more of a panic on the outside than inside the building," he said. "At the same time, the players who have been at a few tournaments, who have huge experience, try to help the other ones.”
Southgate has been trying to relax his players by running through past group-stage records of successful teams. Like Portugal, which drew all three games at the start of Euro 2016 and then won the trophy.
“He always shows us best possible scenarios, worst possible scenarios — it’s not the end of the world,” Sterling said. “He’s just showing us in previous tournaments that it’s not every team that wins their first few games that goes on to win.
“Sometimes teams that have drawn their first two games have gone on to win so we’ve just got to stay motivated, be happy and enjoy our football."
Sterling has borne the brunt of criticism over the years playing for England, particularly in the last-16 exit to Iceland at Euro 2016. The player singled out for England's struggles against Scotland is Harry Kane.
“He’s been our best player, our most influential player, our most important player for a long period of time,” Southgate said. “There’s been moments where the likes of Raheem have probably had periods where he’s been critical for our success as well in terms of the goal scoring. But Harry has consistently been our top goal scorer.”
The 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner won't be dropped for the match against the Czech Republic despite not scoring in both Euro 2020 games or getting a shot on target.
“We as a team, of course, need to produce more for him, more crosses in the box," Sterling said. “He will be the first person to be disappointed but at the same I know when it’s crunch time Harry will be there, that’s for sure.”
The Euro 2020 scoring chart is topped by some famous names and a less renowned forward. Joining Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Belgium's Romelu Lukaku and the Netherlands' Georginio Wijnaldum with three goals is Patrik Schick of the Czech Republic.
“We know England have massive quality and top star players,” Schick said. "But in their first games they did not create too many chances, maybe they are struggling a little bit in attack.
"But as a team they will be always tough to play against. So we have to prepare as well as we can and of course we want to win, get three points and secure qualification from this group.”
Rob Harris, The Associated Press