LONDON: Raheem Sterling ignited England’s Euro 2020 campaign as his clinical finish sealed a 1-0 win against Croatia in their Group ‘D’ opener on Sunday with the tournament reeling after Denmark’s Christian Eriksen needed emergency treatment on the pitch.
On the third day of action at the tournament, which is taking place in 11 venues all across Europe, the coronavirus is causing fresh havoc after Portugal’s Joao Cancelo tested positive.
Sterling grew up in the shadow of Wembley Stadium as it was being rebuilt, even getting a tattoo of its famous arch on his left forearm.
Now playing for his country at the iconic venue, he used his right foot to give England the start they had been longing for. The Manchester City winger’s goal — his first in a tournament in his 13th match through four competitions — gave England a deserved 1-0 win.
Sterling, something of a surprise starter after a flat end to the domestic season but a favourite of manager Gareth Southgate, slid home a 61st-minute shot after great work by Kalvin Phillips.
“I always said to myself if I come here, growing up two minutes down the road, I’ve got to score,” Sterling said. “It’s a great feeling doing it.”
It ensured England overcome their opening-game stumbling block, finally making a winning start to the continental tournament in their 10th appearance.
Roared on by a noisy 22,500 crowd — a quarter of Wembley’s capacity — England started strongly, lost their way for a while but regained control as Croatia barely managed a shot, giving the home side the early advantage in a group that also includes Scotland and the Czech Republic.
The game lacked the drama and jeopardy of the team’s 2018 World Cup semi-final, won by Croatia, and losing on Sunday was no disaster for them given the way the draw pans out, but it was a morale-boosting victory for England as they set off once again in search of their first title since 1966.
“It’s lovely to have given our fans and our country a really enjoyable afternoon. The players dealt with the big occasion really well,” Southgate said.
Eriksen, 29, received CPR as his distraught team-mates formed a circle to shield him from the view of 16,000 stunned spectators in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium on Saturday.
The Group ‘B’ game — just the third of the month-long tournament, which kicked off a year behind schedule on Friday — was halted just before half-time with the score goalless and suspended for nearly two hours before restarting.
The Finns won 1-0 thanks to a Joel Pohjanpalo header in their first-ever appearance in the European Championship but Eriksen’s plight overshadowed the match.
The Danish Football Union said on Sunday that the Inter Milan midfielder remained in hospital but was in a “stable” condition.
“This morning we have spoken to Christian Eriksen, who has sent his greetings to his teammates. His condition is stable, and he continues to be hospitalised for further examination,” it tweeted.
Denmark’s team doctor Boesen said there was still “no explanation” for Eriksen’s collapse.
“There’s no explanation so far,” Boesen told a press conference on Sunday, adding that all tests done so far on the player, who is still in hospital, have come back fine. “That is also one of the reasons that he is still in the hospital.”
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said he regretted resuming the game.
“I honestly don’t think that we should have been on the pitch again,” Hjulmand told reporters.
Messages of support poured in for Eriksen and Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku, his team-mate at Inter Milan, shouted “Chris, Chris, stay strong — I love you” into a pitchside camera during the celebration for his opening goal in the 3-0 defeat of Russia in St Petersburg.
Much-fancied Belgium showed they will be a force to reckon with as Lukaku scored twice for the Red Devils.
Thomas Meunier, on as an early substitute, doubled the lead in the 34th minute before Lukaku’s late second capped an impressive Belgium display.
Roberto Martinez’s side coped admirably with the absences of injured midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel, with captain Eden Hazard only fit enough to make an 18-minute cameo off the bench.
Portugal defender Cancelo has tested positive for Covid-19 and is out of Euro 2020, the defending champions’ federation announced.
Diogo Dalot has replaced the Manchester City right-back in the Portuguese squad, with the titleholders opening their Group ‘F’ campaign against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday.
On Monday, Scotland’s nearly quarter-century wait to compete in a major tournament ends when they take on the Czech Republic in Group ‘D’.
Czech Republic, trying to bounce back after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, travel to Hampden Park in Glasgow having been forced into a last-minute change of their training camp.
Jaroslav Silhavy’s men had snapped up the Scottish national team’s normal base in Edinburgh with the first two of their group matches in Glasgow before facing England at Wembley.
However, those plans had to be changed just over two weeks before the start of Euro 2020 as the Scottish government refused to ease its strict coronavirus rules for close contacts of a positive case.
Spain’s preparations were dismantled after two Covid-19 positives but normalcy has somehow been restored ahead of Monday’s Group ‘E’ opener with Sweden at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville was dismantled after two Covid-19 positives.
Captain Sergio Busquets’ positive result last Sunday forced the squad into isolation and halted group training sessions until Saturday while their final warm-up game against Lithuania was sacrificed and contested by the under-21 side instead.
Defender Diego Llorente also tested positive two days later, adding yet more disarray to their plans, although he has returned to the fold after subsequently testing negative.
Poland and Slovakia are the other two teams in Group ‘E’ and they meet in St Petersburg on Monday, with a win crucial for both sides ahead of their matches against group favourites Spain.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2021