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tamed lions Can England win Euro 2020? On the evidence of what we've seen so far... no chance

Big question is will nice-guy gareth bite the bullet and drop Kane?

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England's Harry Kane, right, shakes hands with his coach Gareth Southgate as he leaves the pitch during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group D match between England and Scotland. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/AP

England's Harry Kane, right, shakes hands with his coach Gareth Southgate as he leaves the pitch during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group D match between England and Scotland. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/AP

England's Harry Kane, right, shakes hands with his coach Gareth Southgate as he leaves the pitch during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group D match between England and Scotland. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/AP

Unlike Belgium and Italy, who have enhanced their reputations in the first week of these Euro Finals, England fluffed their lines against Scotland on Friday night.

On paper, England were much the better team – they didn’t prove it on the grass.

The Scots set the tone after just five seconds. When striker Lyndon Dykes stuck his knee into Luke Shaw’s back.

As an ex-professional I usually do not like encouraging or praising fouls, but I loved it.

That foul was the whole Scotland team saying ‘right, if you want to win this game you are going to have to take a few more slaps like that along the way’.

England had to know that sort of thing was coming.

They ought to have been ready for it and yet they seemed to have little clue as to how to break the well-organised and committed Scotland team down.

Well done to Steve Clarke and his players, who put in the sort of performance against England that the Ireland teams that I represented loved to do.

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England were grateful to Jordan Pickford on a number of times at Wembley.

England were grateful to Jordan Pickford on a number of times at Wembley.

England were grateful to Jordan Pickford on a number of times at Wembley.

The pre-match mantra was: ‘Be organised, be physical, have the set-pieces at either end right and give it your all – and it might just come right in the end’.

Save

As it almost did for Scotland, because that was a world-class save from Jordan Pickford that denied Stephen O’Donnell a goal in the first half.

One thing Scotland’s players taught Ireland’s on Friday was that you need to keep the ball for two or three minutes at a time in games like these, just knocking it about, sowing doubts in the opposition’s mind.

Irish teams have been poor at that of late, and not just under Stephen Kenny either.

Too often a long clearance has been our default option at the first sign of the other team coming out to engage with us.

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Scotland showed us how to retain the ball.

But the defending was the bread-and-butter on Friday night at Wembley and I thought Grant Hanley was magnificent as one of the centre-halves.

This lad lost most of two seasons of the prime of his career to injury not so long ago, but has come back to be a beating heart of this team.

And so to England, managed by my old friend and team-mate Gareth Southgate, one of the nicest people in football.

Over the days leading up to the last Group D match, against the Czech Republic on Tuesday night, Gareth has to decide whether to bring out his ruthless side.

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England's manager Gareth Southgate.

England's manager Gareth Southgate.

England's manager Gareth Southgate.

A side I know is there from Aston Villa dressing-rooms of old, but which you don’t often see in public.

Win

First off, England are now second in the Group table. Does he go for the win on Tuesday night against the Czech Republic to top the table or does Gareth settle for the draw that will leave England second in the group?

Finishing first in the group means you have the round of 16 match at Wembley.

Finishing second in the group means you avoid playing one of France, Portugal or Germany in that Round of 16.

If England decide they want to win the group, then Gareth has to go all out for a win, and risk injuries and suspensions, against the Czechs.

Yet surely his biggest call is to dare to drop England’s talisman, skipper, and best centre-forward in Harry Kane.

Whether he is carrying an injury, or is unsettled by what is going on at his club, where he has asked for a transfer and the club’s bosses cannot find a manager, is not clear.

But when you are in camp for a Euros or a World Cup tournament, you don’t want any outside distractions.

It’s not clear if Harry is enjoying that luxury these days.

Who replaces Harry if Gareth did go for the nuclear button?

Dominic Calvert-Lewin could be the one, but he’s very young for such a job.

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford is much more experienced in international football. But he is a different type of attack leader, effective in a different way to Harry.

Using Rashford as the attack leader would mean changing England’s whole style of play.

Then there is what to do with Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling – who has not looked the same player since Pep Guardiola began to drop him for big club matches four months ago.

Off

I couldn’t believe it when Gareth took Phil Foden off ahead of Sterling on Friday.

Thinking about it later, I can only presume that the England boss wanted to protect 20-year-old Foden, who has had a long season with his club, and who will have to be doing the business at the end of this competition, in three weeks’ time, if England are to win it.

That’s the only logic I could find in that substitution.

Then there is the issue of starting Jack Grealish, with someone, probably Sterling, making way in the starting XI.

The England boss seems to value Sterling’s pace as an attacking threat.

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 Jack Grealish of England looks dejected following the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group D match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium on June 18, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Andy Rain - Pool/Getty Images)

Jack Grealish of England looks dejected following the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group D match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium on June 18, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Andy Rain - Pool/Getty Images)

Jack Grealish of England looks dejected following the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group D match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium on June 18, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Andy Rain - Pool/Getty Images)

But he’s just not ‘at it’ right now and Grealish is at least willing to take on a player and then look for a pass or shot after he has done that.

Too often, England passed for the sake of passing against Scotland.

There was no cutting edge. That won’t do against the better teams!

Finally, Gareth must ask himself if England really need to play with two defensive midfielders, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, in these group games.

By all means have them against fellow-favourites later in the campaign, when the quality of the opposition attacks moves up a gear.

But on Friday, England needed an extra attacker against a game, but creatively-limited Scottish side.

One of Rice or Phillips could surely have done the job.

England will make the last 16 but I now have a lot of doubt about how much further they can go.

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