by Kieran CANNING / AFP
England can join Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Friday if the Three Lions get the better of neighbours Scotland in a grudge match at Wembley.
The oldest and most played fixture in international football takes place at a major tournament for just the second time with the Scots aiming to avenge England’s 2-0 win at Euro 96.
England manager Gareth Southgate was part of that winning side 25 years ago, but does not want his players to be distracted by the acrimony that surrounds a meeting with Scotland.
“For the fans and for us it is a big occasion but it is another opportunity for three points and our objective is qualification. That is what we have got to focus on,” said Southgate.
“I want them to approach it like any other game of football and focus on playing well and (they) don’t need to emphasise the other parts too much.”
Despite having just 2,500 tickets for the 22,500 crowd limited by coronavirus restrictions, Scottish fans have descended on London in their thousands.
After a 23-year wait to reach a major finals, the Scots were stung by Patrik Schick’s double in a 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic on Monday.
Another defeat would leave Steve Clarke’s men needing to beat World Cup finalists Croatia heavily in their final game and other results to go their way to have any chance of reaching the knockout stage for the first time.
Scotland’s chances of causing an upset have received a massive boost with the return of Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney from a hamstring injury.
“We need him back. He’s a top player and an amazing character and someone we want back in the team,” said Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay.
“He’s someone we need and we rely on him a lot for what he brings to the squad.”
England also have a full complement of players to choose from with United captain Harry Maguire back in contention after recovering from ankle ligament damage.
Southgate’s men avenged their World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia to get off to a winning start in the European Championship for the first time on Sunday.
Croatia will look to bounce back from their sluggish display in the Wembley heat when they play against the Czechs in Glasgow in Friday’s 1600 GMT kick-off.
Likely lining up against the Croats will be Schick, who scored a goal of the tournament contender in the Czechs’ win over Scotland, a stunning drive from near the halfway line that left goalkeeper David Marshall wrapped in his own net.
Slovakia eye knockouts
Slovakia were the only side in Group E to get off to a winning start as they beat Poland 2-1 and could also secure a place in the knockout stages with victory over Sweden in Saint Petersburg in a game kicking off at 1300 GMT.
They will line up with talismanic captain Marek Hamsik, who will take on the nation which helped him get ready for the Euro in his record-extending 128th appearance for his country.
The 33-year-old playmaker joined Swedish team IFK Gothenburg from Chinese Super League club Dalian Pro in March, ending his stay in East Asia due to the Covid-19 pandemic complicating travel to and from China.
And now that former Napoli star Hamsik is match fit and playing in the Euro, he will join Turkish side Trabzonspor at the end of the month.
The Slovaks are in line for a spot in the round of 16 thanks to another player who has made his name in Italy in Milan Skriniar.
The Inter Milan defender lashed home the decisive goal against Poland which gives Slovakia the chance to ensure they keep hold of top spot in the group heading into the final round of fixtures.
The Swedes’ ultra-defensive approach against Spain in their opening match was heavily criticised, but despite enjoying just 25 percent possession they escaped with a goalless draw in Seville.
That draw leaves Spain under pressure before their match against Poland on Saturday, although captain Sergio Busquets will rejoin Luis Enrique’s squad after testing negative for Covid-19.