Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric takes part in their training session at Wembley Stadium in London on June Saturday, the eve of their Euro 2020 Group D football match against England.
Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric takes part in their training session at Wembley Stadium in London on June Saturday, the eve of their Euro 2020 Group D football match against England.
AFP

London: England would like to get past the bad memories at the Wembley Stadium as they have never won an opening encounter of the European Championship since their first match in the year 1996.

But as they open another continental clash at his own backyard, the new-look out fit would set renew their past and look positive in the present as they face Croatia here on Sunday.

"Historically, some of those opening matches England have flown out of the blocks, we haven't kept the ball as well and we have suffered later in stages of games," said Southgate, who was in Euro '96 side that was held 1-1 by Switzerland in England's opener.

"How do we pose Croatia as many problems as we can?"

Led by 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, only nine members of that squad made the cut for the expanded 26-man group for a cross-continental European Championship that will could see England play six games at Wembley, if it reaches the final.

"We are going to have some young players on the pitch there is no doubt about that," Southgate said.

"So how do we balance that with players that have had big match experience and are good talkers?"

Such are the quandaries facing Southgate five years into a job he assumed in the wake of England's embarrassing last-16 loss to Iceland at Euro 2016.

On the injury front, center back Harry Maguire and midfielder Jordan Henderson might not be fit enough to start. There's also fatigue to consider given the heat forecast for Sunday and the fact seven players were involved in the Champions League final two weeks ago when Chelsea beat Manchester City.

What Southgate won't be doing is trying to overload the starting XI against Croatia with too many of the exciting attacking options and leave it unbalanced. Perhaps Kane is the only certain starter, with Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden vying for roles.

Since the World Cup, when Croatia lost the final to France, Zlatko Dalic's side has lost and drawn with England in the UEFA Nations League.

Unlike England, Croatia do not have opening blues as they have won opening matches at the European Championship, four times, in fact, and drawn another.

In the other matches, the Austrians will open play at Euro 2020 in Group C against North Macedonia on Sunday in Bucharest. The two teams met twice in qualifying for the tournament, with Austria winning 4-1 and 2-1.

The Netherlands return, will face Ukraine at Euro 2020 in Amsterdam. It's been that many years since the Netherlands last played at a major soccer tournament, dating back to the orange-clad team's run to the World Cup semifinals in 2014. On Sunday in Amsterdam, the Dutch will finally be back on the field to take on Ukraine at the European Championship.

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal

www.freepressjournal.in