Gary Neville hailed Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling for energising England against the Czech Republic and the maturity of Harry Maguire, but warned England will need to deliver something spectacular to overcome the challenges that lie ahead at Euro 2020.
Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic at Wembley extended England’s unbeaten start to Euro 2020 to three games and ensured Gareth Southgate’s side progressed into the round-of-16 as Group D winners.
England’s ‘reward’ for topping the group is a last-16 tie at Wembley against the runners-up from the so-called ‘group of death’ (Group F) that features France, Germany, Portugal and Hungary.
As things stand that would be Germany but numerous permutations are possible with just three points separating the four teams heading into the final group games, with world champions France facing holders Portugal and Germany taking on Hungary on Wednesday evening.
Former England captain Gary Neville saluted England’s achievements so far but believes the reality of the impending challenges that await will soon dawn on Southgate’s squad…
Who should England hope for in last 16?
“Hungary? I don’t think that is going to happen. It’s likely to be Germany or France, maybe Portugal.
“As the Czech Republic game drew to a close, we were saying how brilliant it would be for England to play against Germany at Wembley, and I was thinking that sounded great on paper but wouldn’t be the case when it came to the game. My experiences of playing Germany at Wembley haven’t been that good – losing on penalties in the semi-finals of Euro 96 and then losing under Kevin Keegan in the last game at the old Wembley.
“We’re in a good place. In the back of our minds we’ve got a giant of a team to face next Tuesday, but in terms of the job we were asked to do in the group phase, the players and manager have done that in comfortable fashion, keeping clean sheets.
“But the reality will kick in for these players later on in the week, they have a giant of a game on Tuesday. It’s an event in itself and one which would elevate confidence beyond belief if they were to win. But to win those games against a team like France or Germany takes something really special and spectacular.
“We would be massive underdogs against France, against Germany we have an opportunity, Portugal even more so. You cannot go more than a 50-50 chance against Germany and Portugal, for France I’d go 70-30 against, that is not being negative or pessimistic, it’s realistic.
“Look at the France teamsheet and tell me how many England players would get in ahead of Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane. They have a damn good team. All of England’s potential opponents have good players and while we should be confident we have to realise our opponents will be confident as well and that it will be tough to win.”
‘Grealish, Saka, Sterling bring energy’
England’s assured victory over the Czech Republic was sealed by Sterling’s second goal of the tournament and enhanced by the encouraging performances from Grealish and Saka, whose introduction lifted the entire team, according to Neville.
“The fact that England were already qualified before the game against the Czech Republic mean that it was a composed qualification and the performance last night was a much-needed boost. Grealish, Saka and Sterling’s performances gave everybody a lift in the first half and there was a lot more energy in the game and we looked a lot more balanced.
“We weren’t talking about Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, and a lack of creativity last night because of the performances of Grealish, Saka and Sterling. Phil Foden and Mason Mount are more static as players, they are both exceptional but they aren’t live wires so there was a bit more speed, pace and unpredictability as Grealish, Saka and Sterling dovetailed down that left-hand side.
“That brought an energy to the performance generally and, all of a sudden, the rest of the players looked energetic with them. Those three players moved around so quickly like bees that were buzzing and everything felt more enthusiastic.”
Neville: England more mature with Maguire
Like Saka, centre-back Maguire also made his first appearance at Euro 2020, getting 90 valuable minutes under his belt before the start of the knockout phase. Neville believes the Manchester United defender elevates England to new heights.
“Maguire had to come in to have any chance of playing in the knockout phase. He is the most dominant centre-back we have; he’s authoritative, he’s very good on the ball. Maguire and John Stones together are a good pair and it was critical for Maguire to come back in last night.
“Tyrone Mings has done really well, but there was a level of order with Maguire on the ball. We’ve seen over the last 12 months with empty stadiums that he is vocal and will dig out his team-mates.
“Along with Harry Kane and Jordan Henderson, who isn’t playing all the time at the moment, Maguire is the figurehead on the pitch that this England team needs. Bringing Maguire and Kyle Walker in against the Czech Republic brought more leadership and maturity.”