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England struggle, draw with Slovenia but march on in search for Euro answers

The expansion of finals tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship has had a negative effect on the overall sporting context.

COMPROMISED STANDARD European federation UEFA pushed the size of the finals up to 16 in 1994 and then 24 in 2016. The move was presented as opening up the grand stage to more nations as well as earning more money for everyone. The down side, which UEFA has never conceded, is that the standard of football is compromised.

The simultaneous Group C showdowns were depressing. England played Slovenia in Cologne while Denmark faced Serbia in Munich. Both matches ended in goalless draws and were instantly forgettable.

DISAPPOINTING DISPLAYS England failed to offer much improvement after the disappointing displays in their 1-0 victory over Serbia and 0-0 draw with Denmark. They needed more than half an hour to produce any sort of threat to the Slovenia goal and a flurry of late substitutions made no difference.

Slovenia were the only ones celebrating because they will probably find themselves among the four best third-placed teams and thus progress into the knockout stage behind England and Denmark. The Danes’ Christian Eriksen had something else to celebrate: he set a caps record in his 133rd international, one more than defender Simon Kjaer who sat out the match on the subs’ bench.

SURPRISE TABLE-TOPPERS Earlier in the day Group D was wrapped up with Austria the surprise table-toppers after a 3-2 defeat of Netherlands in Berlin. France were irritated to end as runners-up after a 1-1 draw with Poland who flew home.

Austria’s man-of-the match was midfielder Marcel Sabitzer. He said: “When you win like that, win the group, score the winning goal . . . it doesn’t get any better than that. Now we need to calm down, clear our heads and then keep attacking.”

Austria’s high-press approach was rewarded in the sixth minute when Dutch midfielder Donyell Malen sliced the ball past his own goalkeeper. A lack of concentration cost them at the start of the second half with Cody Gakpo equalising on a breakaway but Austria quickly regained command with a powerful header from Romano Schmid.

A rare slice of Depay magic pulled Netherlands level again in the 75th minute but another five minute and a thunderous drive from Sabitzer sealed their triumph in both match and group.

FIRST EURO GOAL FOR MBAPPE France finished second. Kylian Mbappe scored his first Euro goal and the Poles went home with a point courtesy of a second-half penalty from captain Robert Lewandowski. French coach Didier Deschamps said: “At least we’re qualified. We’re not going to live with regrets. We could have been more efficient A new competition will start.”

Hopefully, for the sake of these Euro finals, that ‘new competition’ will see England, France and Netherlands all raise their game.

Credit: AIPS Media 

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