The first jolt of the night was unwanted and Tyrone Mings was a lucky man to escape a red card. Only he knew what he was thinking in the nine minutes when he lunged off the ball at Austrian striker Sasa Kalajdzic, knocking his opponent down inside the England penalty area. The offense went unnoticed and the VAR had the night off.
The second, however, was far more memorable, a first England goal for Bukayo Saka early in the second half to highlight a driving performance on the wing and lead England to victory as the countdown to Euro 2020 entered. in its final phase, although there was an additional headache for Gareth Southgate when they had to help Trent Alexander-Arnold with what looked like a thigh injury.
Southgate was left without 11 key players: the contingents of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea after their participation in the Europa League and Champions League finals; a strange state of affairs given that England open the final against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday week.
The manager featured just three select starters, Jordan Pickford, Declan Rice and Harry Kane, and saw his team survive a nervous finish when Austria substitute Michael Gregoritsch missed a gold-edged header and Ben White, on his debut. , Made a goal. even later clearing the line. It was a performance that lacked cohesion for long periods and threatened to implode at the end, with the injury to Alexander-Arnold just three minutes before full time.
It was simply impossible to ignore the absentees, the fact that Southgate could only count on 14 members of his squad for the final. A fifteenth, Jadon Sancho, had been included in the roster but was never going to play due to illness. Jesse Lingard was the biggest curiosity, cut by Southgate for Tuesday’s tournament; he then entered the starting lineup to win his 28th international game.
As Southgate said, his substitute players had to be prepared for the game in case of injury and Lingard’s professionalism at camp has been excellent. When all was said and done, it was still an opportunity to represent England.
England had the responsibility to get to their feet and Southgate’s 4-2-3-1 formation, a slight variation on their more commonly used 4-3-3, was designed for Jack Grealish to hit the ball in dangerous central areas.
Behind him was a full debut from Jude Bellingham, at just 17 years old, and it was easy to see why there is so much excitement around him, why Southgate puffed out his cheeks on Tuesday and said, “Wow.” Bellingham’s composure on the ball is astonishing; the same goes for your positional discipline.
The game might have taken a different form early on if the referee, Lawrence Visser, had noticed Mings hitting Kalajdzic’s face with his forearm off the ball. He entered the penalty area when Austria attacked from the left and it was a reckless moment from the central half that cannot happen in the final. Maybe Mings knew there was no VAR and was happy to take a chance.
Kane’s linking game was a feature of the first half: the way he fell deep and sometimes wide to provoke movement; his passing was excellent, although arguably necessary before goal, while Grealish hovered dangerously, challenging his opponents to pounce on him and earn free throws.
England’s best moment before the break followed Saka slipping a pass through Xaver Schlager’s legs to Grealish in the 29th minute and then playing at Kane.
The captain looked offside, which was missed, and, from a tight angle, saw Daniel Bachmann come out to block his shot.
Kane had previously played Alexander-Arnold, who started as a right back, for him to hit the roof of the net, but Bachmann flipped. Bellingham blew a free header from a corner, Lingard had the ball in the net but the whistle had come from a Mings foul on Martin Hinteregger and Saka volleyed high. There wasn’t much from Austria save for a Christoph Baumgartner run, which was eventually shut down by Mings.
There was a welcome return of 8,000 fans, who made themselves heard, although less welcome was the boos from some of them as the players knelt before the game.
England needed to do more in the second half to push away stubborn opponents and they had their break when Bellingham gained possession and Grealish sent Kane down the left inside channel. Kane’s pass back inside was charged with effervescence for Saka, who taunted Grealish, who had continued his run into the area. Marcel Sabitzer’s last ditch inning only managed to deflect the ball towards Saka, who finished from a tight angle.
Southgate featured three more of his backup players, including Ben Godfrey for a debut that almost turned sour with practically his first touch. Godfrey had his head in his hands after making a loose back pass to his own goal and was enormously relieved when Pickford rushed to clear again. England were also lucky when Pickford caught Sabitzer’s fingertip shot in the 64th minute to brush the ball off the crossbar.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism