How good are England?
It was only with two scrambled goals that England achieved what was surely their just deserts
England, praise be, have gone through to the next stage of the current European competition, but has the general euphoria been exaggerated?
There is no question that, on balance of play, the victory over Croatia was well deserved, and that England’s firsthalf dominance deserved to put them comfortably ahead. But, against the run of play, Croatia took the lead in a manner that impugned an erratic England defence and it was only with two scrambled goals that England achieved what was surely their just deserts.
The opening goal which England embarrassingly gave away posed a large question mark over the England defence.
Croatia, arguably, should have scored much earlier, when a blatant error by keeper Jordan Pickford, allowing a ball to bounce back off his chest under pressure, presented a gaping goal to Ante Rebic, who could do no better than shoot over the bar. When Andrej Kramaric received the ball in the box with his back to goal, he twisted and turned to hold off the defence before letting fly a shot which deflected off Eric Dier to end in the net.
By that time England should have been well ahead, but it took a worryingly long time before they turned their superiority into winning goals.
In the previous game against Croatia, in a deserted stadium, they deserved to win, having twice hit the woodwork, but had to settle for a goalless draw.
Remember, though, that this highly unpredictable Croatia team, which had beaten England in the previous World Cup, had been thrashed 6-0 by Spain, who they ultimately proceeded to beat in the return with a late goal.
So all credit and praise to England for turning the game around, but let us keep a sense of proportion. On the same day as England’s victory, Switzerland brought off an astonishing and crucial victory at home to Belgium, who, to many of us, had seemed the best team in the preceding World Cup.
All seemed lost for the Swiss when a couple of early goals by Thorgan Hazard looked to have put Belgium up and away. But hugely to their credit the Swiss refused to lie down and by halftime the home team were 3-2 ahead.
Nor did they lose command of the game after the break. Haris Seferovic scored a hat-trick, Nico Elvedi atoned for a shocking early mistake which had given away the first Belgian goal by scoring himself and the Swiss sailed through as imposing 5-2 winners.
So much for the team that had come so close to winning the World Cup.
Decisive...Harry Kane scores England’s winner against Croatia
Hat-trick hero... Haris Seferovic