Belgium and the Netherlands completed their Euro 2020 preparations on Sunday with respective wins over Croatia and Georgia.
Belgium, the world’s top-ranked side, beat the 2018 World Cup runners up 1-0 thanks to a first half goal from in-form Romelu Lukaku, fresh from winning the Serie A title with Inter Milan.
Roberto Martinez’s side will be one of the favourites to win what would be their first ever major international trophy and line up in Group B alongside Denmark, Finland and Russia.
In a tight match it was Lukaku, 28, who was the difference between the two sides in a cagey contest, and he was unlucky not to open the scoring in the 31st minute with a wonder goal.
Holding off three Croatia defenders, Lukaku unleashed a curling shot which looked to be heading in before it crashed out off the bar, with Yannick Carrasco’s header on the rebound also thudding onto the woodwork.
However he gave his side the lead seven minutes later when he pounced following confusion in the Croatia penalty area and lashed home his 60th international goal.
Few clear-cut chances came along after that, but Lukaku should have netted his second of the night with a minute remaining when his close-range header was somehow kept out by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
The Dutch had an easier time of it with a 3-0 win over Georgia.
Frank de Boer’s team will be aiming to make a big impression at their first major tournament since the 2014 World Cup and play all their Group C matches with Ukraine, Austria and North Macedonia in Amsterdam.
They took the lead in the 10th minute through a Memphis Depay penalty and the Lyon forward was unlucky not to double his tally six minutes later, with Giorgi Loria pulling off a marvellous save to deny him.
Loria made another magnificent stop just before the break, tipping away Frenkie de Jong’s long-range drive which was arrowing into his top right-hand corner.
Wout Weghorst did make it two 11 minutes after the restart when he collected impressive Depay’s well-time through ball and lashed home from close range.
Loria continued his superb display between the sticks with another great save from Depay’s drilled effort from the edge of the area, but couldn’t stop Ryan Gravenberch from adding a third with 14 minutes left.
The 35-year-old had again denied Depay, this time from inside the area, but Ajax teenager Gravenberch followed up to nod home and complete the victory.
Denmark also go into the tournament on a high after seeing off Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 in Brondby.
Goals from Martin Braithwaite and Andreas Cornelius were enough for Kasper Hjulmand’s side to grab the win ahead of their opening Group B fixture with Finland in Copenhagen on Saturday.
Austria drew 0-0 with Slovakia while Scotland scraped a 1-0 win over 10-man Luxembourg ahead of their first major international tournament appearance for 23 years.
Southgate braced for more boos of England taking the knee
England manager Gareth Southgate admitted the boos that met his side taking the knee ahead of Sunday’s 1-0 friendly win over Romania in Middlesbrough sadly came as no surprise.
There was a similar reaction to the Three Lions performing the gesture against racial injustice before Wednesday’s clash against Austria, which also took place at the Riverside Stadium.
Southgate made an impassioned plea on Saturday for fans to respect the players’ stand on the issue, but insisted England will continue to take the knee before kick-off in all of their matches at Euro 2020 no matter the reaction.
A crowd of 22,000 will attend all three of their group games at Wembley with restrictions still in place on the number of supporters allowed to attend due to coronavirus restrictions.
Taking the knee, initially performed by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has become commonplace in top level football matches over the past year.
However, the vast majority of those matches have been behind closed doors.
“I sadly expected what happened to happen,” said Southgate. “It’s not going to stop what we are doing or what we believe or my support for our players and staff.
“We’re going to have to live with that. Moving forward it’s pointless me going into any further detail on it.”
Once the action got underway, Marcus Rashford’s penalty earned an unconvincing win after Southgate named an experimental team.
Five players who are not part of his final squad for the European Championship made an appearance at some point in the game.
There is still one place up for grabs in Southgate’s 26-man squad due to an injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold.
James Ward-Prowse, Ben Godfrey and Ben White were all given the chance to further their case from the start, while Jesse Lingard and Ollie Watkins came off the bench in the second-half.
Ward-Prowse did the most to justify a place in the squad with an all-action display in midfield and the Southampton skipper’s delivery from set-pieces was also on show.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin powered his in-swinging free-kick against the crossbar before Jadon Sancho also struck the woodwork.
At the other end Sam Johnstone had an impressive England debut as he made a smart save from Nicole Stanciu to ensure Southgate’s men did not trail at the break.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson made his return from 106 days out injured at half-time for a much-needed 45 minutes for his match fitness.
Jack Grealish was England’s one constant menace as the Romanians repeatedly resorted to hauling down the Aston Villa man.
However, that tactic cost them the only goal when Grealish was clipped by Tiberiu Capusa as he broke into the box.
Rashford, who became the 125th man to captain England, took responsibility from the spot to send Florin Nita the wrong way.
Johnstone then had to make a stunning stop to earn his clean sheet by turning Andrei Ivan’s fierce effort over.
Henderson took the captain’s armband from Rashford and also took control of penalty taking duties 12 minutes from time with the Manchester United forward having been replaced by Lingard.
Calvert-Lewin wanted the ball after he was chopped down by Vlad Chiriches, but Henderson pulled rank.
However, he is still waiting to score his first international goal after 59 caps as Nita made a good save low to his right.
“We were expecting Dominic to take it, I’ll see what Hendo’s thought process was,” added Southgate. “Maybe we will pull rank next time.”
Busquets tests positive for Covid-19
Sergio Busquets has left Spain’s pre-Euro 2020 training camp after testing positive for Covid-19, the country’s football federation (RFEF) announced on Sunday.
In a statement, the RFEF said Spain captain Busquets, 32, tested positive earlier on Sunday, with the rest of the squad all testing negative.
The RFEF added that those who have been in close contact with Barcelona midfielder Busquets “will remain isolated” as a preventative measure.
The squad will carry out individual training programmes in the build-up to the Euro, which begins on Friday.
Spain’s first match is against Sweden on June 14 and coach Luis Enrique has until Saturday to make changes to his squad ahead of their opening fixture in Seville.
“Appropriate sporting measures will be assessed according to the situation of the national team captain,” the RFEF said.
Busquets has played over 120 times for Spain and helped his country to triumphs at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
He has also won eight Spanish league titles and three Champions Leagues with Barcelona, as well as a host of other trophies.
Respond to this article with a post
Share your perspective on this article with a post on ScrollStack, and send it to your followers.