England delivered an efficient but hardly scintillating display to beat Czech Republic 1-0 with an early Raheem Sterling header on Tuesday to advance to Euro 2020’s last 16 as Group D winners, with the Czechs through as one of the best third-placed teams.
Sterling scored his and England’s second goal of the tournament in the 12th minute but the initial injection of pace, intensity and crowd-pleasing excitement brought by Jack Grealish and teenage man of the match Bukayo Saka gradually dissipated as the game petered out into an utterly forgettable second half.
Neither side will mind though as they now begin to plot their assaults on the knockout phase.
England return to Wembley on Tuesday to face the runners-up from Group E – likely to be France, Germany or Portugal – while the Czechs must wait to find out which group winner they play.
They were dislodged from second place by Croatia, who beat Scotland 3-1 and will play the Group E runners-up – Sweden, Slovakia, Spain or Poland – in Copenhagen on Monday.
On the positive side of England’s balance sheet is two wins and a draw, three clean sheets, a return to Wembley and a good number of players getting a taste of the action.
Conversely, they have scored only two goals – the lowest by any team ever to top a Euros group – were sluggish and over-cautious for long periods of all three games and the midfield combination and approach seemingly remain anything but settled. They also face a potentially daunting last 16 game next.
“We are not fluent but we have moments where we look a good side,” said England coach Gareth Southgate.
“The Czechs are a really good side. They use the ball well and are really tough to break down. There is more to come from us, definitely. We have not scored from a set play yet. They are crucial in big matches and we have to get those nailed.
“All of our next opponents will be different games but there are a lot of good things we are doing.”
Sterling was at the sharp end of England’s early attacks as they began full of energy. He struck a post in the second minute when he lifted the ball past advancing keeper Tomas Vaclik – the third time England had hit a post of the same goal early in each match.
Ten minutes later Sterling found the target with a close-range header from a delicious floated cross by Grealish after a driving run by Saka had splintered the Czech rearguard.
Making his first appearance of the tournament, the 19-year-old wide man showed a willingness to run with the ball that was painfully absent from England’s first two performances and, with Grealish a constant menace, the hosts looked more threatening.
Harry Kane looked sharper too and had a shot well saved late in the first half by Vaclik, but that early promise was gradually replaced by the all-too-familiar caution and England barely mustered another meaningful attempt.
The Czechs were neat and tidy without carrying a huge amount of penalty box threat, though Tomas Holes had a shot palmed clear by Jordan Pickford and Tomas Soucek fired just wide in the first half.
Substitute Jordan Henderson thought he had scored his first goal for England on his 60th appearance five minutes from time after a scramble, only to see it ruled out for offside.
Overall though it was desperately thin gruel for most of the second half, with the loudest cheers reserved for the big screen announcements of Croatia’s goals that eliminated Scotland.
Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games
by Reemus Fernando
Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.
“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.
“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.
“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.
While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.
“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”
Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.
That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.
Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.
Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.
Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.
SL begin World Cup preparations today
by Rex Clementine
Sri Lanka’s cricketers who are in a bio-secure bubble at the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo will end their three day quarantine today and will start group training. Following the group training, there will be full squad training stimulating match situations and after ten days of practices in Colombo, the team will leave for Oman where they will play two T-20 Internationals.
Former captain Kusal Janith Perera, who sustained a hamstring injury during the South Africa series and was doubtful for the World Cup is in the bubble and The Island learns that there is a good possibility that he will recover by the time the World Cup starts.
KJP was axed as captain after just two tours and he missed the home series against India with a shoulder injury. He then tested positive for COVID and missed the ODI leg of the South Africa series and hurt his hamstring during the last T-20 International against the Proteas.
Sources said that KJP will tour with the squad to Oman but he is likely to be kept out of the games there and will be available for the qualifying round of the World Cup.
Sri Lanka’s bowling too is thin on experience for the Oman leg with SLC freeing Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera, who are contracted with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. Both players are expected to join the squad just before the World Cup qualifiers.
Sri Lanka are slotted alongside Namibia, Netherlands and Ireland in the qualifying round and need to win two of those games to qualify. The games against Namibia and Netherlands will be played in Abu Dhabi while the crunch game against Ireland will take place in Sharjah. While Namibia and Netherlands do not pose much of a threat, Ireland can challenge Sri Lanka given all the troubles they have had in T-20 cricket in recent years.
Sri Lanka’s form lead up to the World Cup is not ideal having been blanked 3-0 by the Proteas at home. The two match series in Oman hopefully will give them momentum ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
Apart from the squad of 15 players, the ICC allows four travelling reserves to be with the squad in case of replacements are needed in these uncertain times. Sri Lanka also are carrying five additional players at the board’s cost so that they will not be caught off guard in case of an emergency.
SLC keen to help Pakistan and looking for a window
by Rex Clementine
Sri Lanka Cricket is keen to help Pakistan once again after cricket in the country came to a standstill with New Zealand and England pulling out from their bilateral tours. Pakistan cricket chief former Test captain Ramiz Raja had reached out to his counterparts at SLC requesting the possibilities of a short tour. However, SLC is cramped for room for an immediate tour but will consider travelling to the country for a white ball series, possibly this year, SLC sources told The Island.
Sri Lanka are set to leave for Oman on the 3rd of October and that ruled out a series in Pakistan before the ICC T-20 World Cup. Soon after the World Cup, Sri Lanka will host West Indies for two Tests and the board will look at the possibility of touring Pakistan after that series.
Cricket in Pakistan stopped after the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. Pakistan were forced to play their home games in UAE, an exercise that cost the PCB an arm and a leg.
In 2017, Pakistan made a huge step forward when the last game of a bilateral series against Sri Lanka was played in Lahore. In that series, two Tests, five ODIs and two T-20s had been played in UAE and the final T-20 in Lahore.
Since, then Pakistan has hosted Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe in limited overs cricket while South Africa had played Test match cricket. Sri Lanka had toured Pakistan for both white ball and red ball games.
PCB was looking to bring all international teams back to the country but the pulling out of New Zealand in the 11th hour followed by England’s no show have been massive blows. Pakistan officials have been bitter about the cancellations and have promised to take up the matter with the ICC.
SLC was highly impressed by the security arrangements that were in place for the team and officials during all their visits and had sent senior Air Force officer Roshan Biyanwala to assess the situation before the team travelled to Pakistan. Biyanwala had given a clean slate and the tours completed successfully.
Pakistan has been one of Sri Lanka’s strongest allies in cricket. Several Pakistan players including former great Wasim Akram played a hastily arranged exhibition match in Colombo along with leading Indian stars before the 1996 World Cup when Australia and West Indies pulled out due to security reasons.
Much before that, Pakistan was a pillar of strength when Sri Lanka applied for full member status with the ICC in 1970s. Abdul Hafeez Kardar in his capacity as Chairman of the Pakistan board aggressively pushed Sri Lanka’s case. He was responsible in training Sri Lankan coaches and curators in Pakistan to uplift the standard of the game in the island.
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