England Put Croatian Demons to Bed as Kalvin Phillips Justifies Decision

England

A lot has changed since 2018. New players have arrived, a new generation is blossoming before our eyes and Gareth Southgate has even ditched the waistcoat. And perhaps after all the fuss about that very waistcoat, it was an unlucky omen because, three years after suffering semi-final heartbreak, England finally put their Croatian demons to bed.

They played like a team seeking revenge, suffocating Croatia from the off- pressing like we hadn’t seen them press before. Southgate’s men were energised, tactically aware and put their opponents through an attacking Groundhog Day at times. Each time the ball was cleared, a man in the England colours would simply pick the ball up before continuing the attack.

Admittedly, there was a brief spell in which Croatia were allowed to come up for air, but the suffocating soon continued- eventually leading to the opening goal courtesy of Raheem Sterling. But the Manchester City man had the easy part. The goal, in truth, was thanks to Kalvin Phillips- making his first appearance at an international tournament- who acted as the England conductor; perhaps leading the tune of the famous ‘Three Lions’ song?

England Put Croatian Demons to Bed

Phillips Grasps Hold of Opportunity

With the likes of Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson in the squad, many were left surprised by Gareth Southgate’s decision to choose Phillips. His decision was soon justified, however. The Leeds United man put a stop to any Croatian attempt to break, dictated the tempo and initiated the press to perfection.

The decision to start the midfielder highlights what Southgate often gets right in the England dugout. He very much seems a man who believes that if you are good enough, experience takes secondary priority. His choice does, however, hand the England boss a fresh headache.

After such a superb start, does Southgate continue with the Declan Rice and Phillips partnership? Or does he turn to the experience of Henderson and the youthful flair of Jude Bellingham, who is yet to even reach manhood? Only time will tell whether Southgate sticks or twists. One thing that we do know is that Gareth Southgate has the best England squad since the days of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard at his disposal.

The Three Lions now move onto a big game against Scotland on 18 June after a perfect start. The sun was shining, Wembley was booming with fans and any mention of the word ‘Croatia’ now signals flashbacks of a better moment.

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