England 2-1 Poland: Maguire bails out Stones with late winner

By Sports Desk March 31, 2021

Harry Maguire bailed out what looked set to be a costly John Stones error as the Manchester United defender scored England's late winner in a 2-1 victory over Poland on Wednesday.

Gareth Southgate's men, who had begun a new World Cup qualifying campaign with wins over San Marino and Albania, just about did enough against a Poland side without the injured Robert Lewandowski.

The Three Lions were good value for their lead amid a commanding first-half display, Harry Kane becoming England's all-time leading penalty scorer on 10 as he converted after fine play by Raheem Sterling.

Stones gifted Poland a chance that Jakub Moder capitalised on in the 58th minute, though he played an important role as Maguire's goal maintain England's unblemished start in Group I.

 

England played the ball around with swagger during the early exchanges and almost opened the scoring in the eighth minute, only for Phil Foden to head Ben Chilwell's cross over after Mason Mount carved the Poland defence open.

Nevertheless, England did not have to wait much longer to take the lead, Kane confidently dispatching a penalty having seen the lively Sterling clumsily tripped by Michal Helik.

Kane was then denied a second just past the half-hour mark, latching on to Foden's clever first-time offload and forcing Wojciech Szczesny into an applaudable save down to his right from 20 yards.

But England were pegged back before the hour, Stones – who had put England in trouble a few minutes earlier only to be bailed out by Nick Pope – was robbed just outside his own penalty and Moder applied an emphatic finish after being fed by substitute Arkadiusz Milik.

England's response was meek, the home side's urgency showing little sign of improvement as the seconds ticked away – Foden's weak right-footed shot in the 69th minute causing Szczesny no bother.

There was to be a final hurrah for the hosts, however, as Stones made up for his earlier blunder by heading a corner delivery back into the danger zone and Maguire smashed past the helpless Szczesny to seal the points.

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  • Justify his place in the team? England would be down and out without Raheem Sterling Justify his place in the team? England would be down and out without Raheem Sterling

    When Luke Shaw lifted a delightful ball over the top of the Czech Republic defence during the early stages of England's 1-0 Euro 2020 win on Friday, Raheem Sterling was away.

    Of course he was. The Manchester City's forwards intelligent, incisive movement has been a vital asset for club and country over the past five years – a period in which he has become one of his country's most decorated footballers in terms of major honours.

    But what would happen next?

    Could it be as bad as that time he blazed over two clear chances in the Manchester derby on a day City were 2-0 up and set to win the league against their bitter rivals and lost 3-2?

    Maybe it would end up as wince-inducing as the open goal he missed when his club crashed out of the Champions League against Lyon in 2020 at the quarter-final stage, or the two-yard miss that persuaded Pep Guardiola to immediately substitute him at Burnley two years earlier?

    Or the full campaign at Russia 2018 when he did not find the net during England's run to the semi-finals?

    Yes, Sterling misses chances. Quite a lot of quite good ones.

    According to Opta, he scored 11 but missed 19 of the 'big chances' that fell his way for the Premier League champions in all competitions last season. It was part of the reason Guardiola increasingly left him on the bench.

    But Sterling is the sort of player who always comes back for more. The sort who never hides – a quality that starts to look increasingly valuable amid the vicious maelstrom that is England at a major tournament.

    Joy delayed but not denied

    As it happened, the shot was not one to fit in with that catalogue of misses. Sterling dispatched a deft lob over Tomas Vaclik and was unfortunate to see the effort ricochet clear off the post, continuing a strange quirk for England games in this tournament. In the early knockings versus Croatia and Scotland, Phil Foden and John Stones each rattled uprights.

    As was the case in both of those games, even the dour draw with Scotland – where Sterling created the best chance of the night for Mason Mount and had a reasonable late penalty claim rejected – the forward was a nuisance.

    Gareth Southgate's decision to bow to the Jack Grealish clamour and give Bukayo Saka a surprise start gave England a little more vibrancy, also allowing Sterling to pester the opposition defence more centrally and ensure Harry Kane was a less isolated figure. The England captain went close but remains without a goal in this tournament. Only one player has manged to score for the Three Lions.

    You might struggle to remember Sterling was the matchwinner on the opening weekend against Croatia. Calls for Grealish and the perplexingly sidelined Jadon Sancho have left Sterling as a casualty in the XIs of many a pundit and fan.

    The 26-year-old's vile treatment by a section of the tabloid press has been well documented. But Sterling scepticism goes far beyond such reactionary outposts.

    After his second-half strike sunk Croatia and sent England on their way to top spot in the group, the BBC television interviewer asked whether Sterling had justified his place in the team, despite being the Three Lions' top scorer from open play since Russia 2018.

    The Athletic, very much the antithesis of the UK red tops, ran an article in the build-up to the Czech Republic game where eight of its writers picked their England XI. Two featured Sterling.

    The annoying one

    He is, at times, an annoying footballer. That is not just down to the catalogue of horror misses outlined above.

    A source told Stats Perform last year that an aspect of improvement identified for Sterling by Guardiola's coaching staff was his control of the ball, which seems a staggeringly basic thing for a star forward in a high-end football team. There was an example of this when he sold Kalvin Phillips short with a very routine pass after half-time, forcing the Leeds United midfielder into a foul for which he was fortunate not to be booked.

    But again, we return to that capacity to make things happen, which feels vital for an England team constructing 90-minute portions where not much happens.

    When things do happen, it is thrilling and you wish they happened more often.

    Saka tore at the Czech Republic in the 12th minute – left-back Jan Boril will not reflect too fondly upon having shared a pitch with the livewire Arsenal youngster.

    His eventual delivery found its way to Grealish, who clipped a delightful left-footed cross to the back post. Sterling couldn't miss. Well, as discussed above, he could. But he didn't, nodding home to stand tall in a time of need for Southgate once more.

    Saka and Grealish hogged the initial post-match conversation, not undeservedly. Stones and the returning Harry Maguire marshalled the backline superbly and Luke Shaw impressed going backwards and forwards.

    Three clean sheets out of three are not to be sniffed at. But England's tendency for lulls in-game and to trudge through some stodgy moments still feels regrettable given the attacking talent at Southgate's disposal.

    The Czech Republic were beaten 5-0 in the opening qualifier for Euro 2020 and England looked a team to be feared in a way they don't right now. Sterling, in red-hot form, scored a hat-trick.

    Whether his national team are soaring high or quietly plugging, time and again he has shown his worth.

    There are plenty of causes for concern around this England team. The man who has scored the winning goal in each of their victories and always makes life miserable for opposition defenders is absolutely not one of them.

    Stop dropping Sterling from the XIs you put on Twitter. It makes you look silly.

  • Sweden v Poland: Losing run against 'perfect' opponents of no concern to Sousa Sweden v Poland: Losing run against 'perfect' opponents of no concern to Sousa

    Sweden can win Group E by recording a sixth consecutive victory against Poland, but their opponents are focused heading into a matchday three "final".

    The pool leaders have a dominant recent record in meetings with Poland, winning nine of their past 11 games and each of the previous five.

    Poland have not beaten Sweden since 1991, although they were victors in the only previous major tournament clash at the 1974 World Cup.

    Either way, Poland coach Paulo Sousa insists he is not concerned by past results ahead of Wednesday's game in St Petersburg.

    "It is true that, from a statistical point of view, Sweden have a better record against Poland," Sousa said. "But if we look at the past, we won't move forward. We are only focused on what is now.

    "Sweden are a perfect team. They press very well, they are good in set-pieces. There is huge diversity in their play."

    Sousa added: "For us, it is like a final. We have been working hard since the first day of our training camp to be prepared."

    Following a draw with Spain and narrow victory over Slovakia, Sweden are aiming to go an entire group stage without conceding for the first time since 1974.

    And they do not intend to take their foot off the gas now.

    Captain Sebastian Larsson said: "It's nice to be through to the round of 16 already after just two games, but we want more. Of course we'll go for the group win."

    Despite Sweden's strong defensive record, this game should at least deliver goals. The sides' previous 26 meetings have not yielded a single 0-0 draw.
     

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Sweden – Alexander Isak

    Sousa described Sweden forward Isak as "one of the best players in Europe when it comes to counter-attacks". The striker completed six dribbles against Slovakia, although Sweden have not had a single fast break yet at the tournament. That may change against Poland, who will have to push forward in pursuit of all three points.

    Poland – Robert Lewandowski

    Having so often failed to make an impact on the international stage, dominant Bayern Munich goalscorer Lewandowski turned up against Spain. A stunning header meant he has been involved in 14 goals in his past 12 starts for his country. Another Lewandowski goal would make him Poland's outright leading Euros scorer on four.
     

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    – Sweden and Poland's only previous encounter at a major tournament came in the second round of the 1974 World Cup; Poland won 1-0, courtesy of Grzegorz Lato's solitary goal. The victors finished third – their joint-best performance at a major tournament – and Lato won the Golden Boot (seven goals).
    – Poland have won just one of their past nine matches across all competitions (D4 L4), beating Andorra 3-0 in March. Indeed, Poland's ongoing five-match winless streak (D3 L2) is their longest since September to November 2018 (six games).
    – Of Sweden's goals at the Euros, 88 per cent have been scored in the second half of games (23 of 26), the highest percentage of any side with at least three goals at the tournament.
    – Poland have won their final group game in both of their last two major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros), beating Ukraine at Euro 2016 and Japan at the 2018 World Cup. Failing to win this match would be the first time Poland have not won any of their three group games at such a competition since Euro 2012.
    – Sweden's Emil Forsberg has scored each of his nation's past two goals at major tournaments, netting winners in 1-0 victories over Switzerland at the 2018 World Cup and against Slovakia at Euro 2020. Forsberg has only scored in consecutive international appearances once previously, netting against France in November 2016 and Belarus in March 2017.

  • Germany v Hungary: Point needed to preserve Die Mannschaft's proud tournament record Germany v Hungary: Point needed to preserve Die Mannschaft's proud tournament record

    Germany have never exited consecutive major tournaments at the group stage but need at least a draw against Hungary to be sure of avoiding that fate.

    Joachim Low's side suffered an awful early elimination at the 2018 World Cup and were facing further pain after losing their Euro 2020 opener against France.

    The 2014 world champions recovered with a stunning 4-2 win over holders Portugal, though, and could yet top the group with a win, setting up a meeting with a third-placed finisher.

    But Germany face a highly motivated Hungary side, who will themselves make the last 16 with a win after drawing at home to France.

    The only previous occasion on which the teams met in the group stage saw Germany fall to a record defeat, 8-3 at World Cup 1954. They did recover to beat Hungary in the final, however.

    And the Magyars have not won their final group match since the 1966 World Cup.

    Marco Rossi acknowledges the odds are stacked against his side, describing simply qualifying for the tournament as a "major achievement" on the eve of the match.

    "We play against three teams that may get to the semi-finals and play in London," he said.

    "Our group has been called a 'Group of Death' and evidently the one to fall there is Hungary. In theory, it's hard to disagree with someone making such a prediction."

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    Germany – Kai Havertz

    Chelsea team-mate Timo Werner has so far been kept on the fringes, but Havertz became Germany's youngest ever European Championship scorer at 22 years and eight days old against Portugal. Only three younger players – Thomas Muller (20 in 2010), Franz Beckenbauer (20 in 1966) and Lukas Podolski (21 in 2006) – have scored in consecutive tournament games for Germany, as Havertz could.

    Hungary – Roland Sallai

    Hungary have only scored once so far at this tournament, but Sallai assisted Attila Fiola's strike against France and is suddenly a man in form for his country. Sallai has also scored twice in his past four international appearances, his three goal involvements as many as in his first 20 games for Hungary.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    – Germany and Hungary's only previous meeting in Munich was 110 years ago, in a friendly played in December 1911 at the city's MTV-Platz stadium. Hungary won 4-1.

    – Under Joachim Low, Germany have beaten Hungary both times they have met – both friendlies, by an aggregate scoreline of 5-0 (3-0 in Budapest in 2010, 2-0 in Gelsenkirchen in 2016).

    – Hungary are without a win in each of their past five matches at the European Championship (D3 L2) since a 2-0 victory against Austria in 2016. Indeed, that 2-0 win versus Austria is their only clean sheet in their 10 matches in the competition.

    – Against Portugal last time out, Germany's four goals took them to 302 scored overall in major tournaments (World Cup and Euros); indeed, no other European nation have yet reached 200 such goals (France 184 next highest).

    – Fiola has scored two goals in his past four appearances for Hungary, after failing to score in his first 33 games for his country. Indeed, Fiola (31y, 122d) is the second-oldest player to score for Hungary at the European Championship after Zoltan Gera (37y 61d) against Portugal at Euro 2016.

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