Grealish hands England much needed spark as new boys help see off Czech Republic

It was not pretty at times, it was nervy and yet they did it.

The fans did not seem to care at the final whistle because they get to see more of England at Wembley as winning Group D sets up a huge last 16 tie with home advantage next Tuesday.

England will have to play a lot better if they are to get past the likes of France, Germany, Portugal because they will face the runners-up from the Group of Death.

But England just got the job done, they saw it out with a third consecutive clean sheet and another match winning performance from Raheem Sterling.

His first half winner, a darting header at the back post, was his 14th goal in his last 19 internationals and the second time he has been the hero after scoring the decisive goal against Croatia in the Group opener.

Jack Grealish was handed his first start and provided the assist for Raheem Sterling
Jack Grealish was handed his first start and provided the assist for Raheem Sterling

But this was also about the energy and enthusiasm of Bukayo Saka who shone on his first start of the tournament as, in the first half in particular, he was everywhere.

Gareth Southgate gave the people what they wanted by starting Jack Grealish and he delivered with the assist for Sterling’s goal.

Luke Shaw was outstanding from left back, Harry Maguire returned to strengthen the defence while Jordan Pickford again produced another faultless display.

England were made to work hard for the win, the Czech Republic were tough and rugged opponents who provide one or two scares.

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But to top the Group with seven points suddenly changes the mood from doom and gloom after Friday’s draw against Scotland to excitement of what is up next.

It was not a performance to get fans on the edge of the seat but home comforts and staying at Wembley cannot be underestimated.

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Bukayo Saka enjoyed a promising night at Wembley
Bukayo Saka enjoyed a promising night at Wembley

That must give England extra hope even if they face a daunting opponent and they are looking solid even if they still need a bit more fantasy and sparkle.

Harry Kane was better and sharper, worked hard and finally managed a shot on target which was well saved and, in better form, probably would have scored.

But you cannot have everything and all Southgate really wanted was a win to top the Group as he has been stressing that tournament football is all about building momentum.

England now have that and, even if they were a bit sloppy as the game ebbed away in the second half, they never actually looked like conceding as they kept the Czechs at arm’s length in the dying stages.

Saka’s energy, Shaw’s impetus and Grealish’s invention helped England start brightly and Sterling came so desperately close to scoring after two minutes.

Shaw’s ball forward released Sterling, he chipped Czech keeper Tomas Vaclik but the ball agonisingly hit the post rather than drop into the empty net.

But it was a sign of more positive things to come. Saka looked really lively down the right and it was his good work which stretched the defence before Grealish came into his own on the other side by standing up a cross to the back post.

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In darted Sterling to head home for a 12th minute opener and his second goal of the tournament to completely change the mood at Wembley from the boos on Friday night to loud cheers as the fans got swept up by the excitement.

Kane managed his first shot on target in the tournament after 26 minutes as he latched onto Maguire’s brilliant through ball, the England captain turned inside but was denied by a smart save from Vaclik. Encouraging, but Kane at the top of his game would find a way.

But England’s failure to capitalise on their chances and possession gave the Czech Republic encouragement and a way back in with Czech midfielder Tomas Holes saw a shot well saved by Pickford and West Ham’s Tomas Soucek fired just wide.

Jordan Henderson came on for Declan Rice at half time, Jude Bellingham energised the midfield when he came on as Grealish tired while Marcus Rashford came on for Sterling to see the game out.

That is exactly what England did and, while Southgate’s substitutes did not set the world alight, they did exactly what was required.


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