Bellingham gets England's Euro 2024 campaign off to winning start

AFP , Monday 17 Jun 2024

Jude Bellingham got England's Euro 2024 campaign off to a winning start but a 1-0 victory over Serbia in Gelsenkirchen failed to dispel doubts over the Three Lions' quest to become European champions for the first time.

England s midfielder #10 Jude Bellingham celebrates scoring his team s first goal during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C football match between Serbia and England at the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen on June 16, 2024. Photo: AFP


Bellingham was in a class of his own in Gelsenkirchen as the Real Madrid midfielder's header on 13 minutes capped a fine individual display.

But collectively England failed to match the standards Germany and Spain showed in romping to victory in their opening matches.

Expectations on England ahead of a major tournament have rarely ever been higher but they had won just one of their previous five matches, including a 1-0 defeat to Iceland in their final warm-up match before jetting out to Germany.

Restored to full strength, it appeared all would be alright on the night for Gareth Southgate in a dominant start from the Euro 2020 finalists.

Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic hailed Bellingham as a future Ballon d'Or winner on the eve of the game and he put on a show to justify his status as arguably the world's best player on current form.

The 20-year-old played with the swagger of a newly-crowned Champions League winner as he had the Serbian midfield chasing shadows.

Yet, Bellingham also showed his physical prowess to open the scoring on 13 minutes.

He started the move before bursting into the box to meet Bukayo Saka's deflected cross with a powerful header into the top corner.

England were dominant in the first 45 minutes without ever threatening to cut loose.

Kyle Walker had the best chance to double their lead before the break when he pulled an effort wide after a lung-bursting run into the Serbian box from right-back.

Southgate's one roll of the dice with his starting line-up was to play Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield.

That decision nearly backfired as it was an Alexander-Arnold error that gifted Serbia their only sight of goal in the first half.

Alexander-Arnold was dispossessed on the edge of the England box but the in-form Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored 40 goals in 43 games for Saudi champions Al Hilal this season, fired wide.

The second period was a different story as England sat on their lead and were lucky not to be punished.

Southgate's men came into the tournament with question marks over their defence due to the absence of Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw's lack of match practice.

Crystal Palace's Marc Guehi stepped into Maguire's shoes, but had a moment to forget as was outpaced by Dusan Vlahovic and Filip Mladenovic failed to connect with the Juventus striker's cross.

Mitrovic then saw an optimistic penalty claim waived away and Luka Jovic failed to take Dusan Tadic's pass in his stride with another decent chance.

Southgate turned to his bench to stem the tide with the introduction of Conor Gallagher and Jarrod Bowen.

Bowen made an instant impact as from his cross Harry Kane's header was brilliantly turned onto the bar by Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic.

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That was Kane's only significant impact in the opposition box on a frustrating night for the Bayern Munich striker.

Indeed, Kane's most telling touch came at the other end moments later to head away Veljko Birmancevic's goalbound shot.

Jordan Pickford was also forced into his one and only save late from Vlahovic's dipping drive.

But England held on to start with three points if not the statement of intent expected from pre-tournament favourites.

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