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Under-fire England enters knockouts against Slovakia on TSN


Uninspiring in the group stage, England looks to take its first step towards a second straight UEFA Euro final when the Three Lions meet Slovakia in the Round of 16 on Sunday from Gelsenkirchen.

You can catch England vs. Slovakia in the Round of 16 at UEFA Euro 2024 LIVE from Gelsenkirchen on Sunday with coverage getting underway at 11am et/8am pt on TSN1/4, CTV, streaming on and on the TSN App.

Heading into the Euro, there was a growing feeling that Gareth Southgate’s time as England manager was coming to an end. The tournament would be Southgate’s fourth in charge of the Three Lions, and only World Cup winner Alf Ramsey had managed the team at four tournaments before him. There was also the matter of potential interest from Manchester United with new minority owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe a long-time admirer of Southgate. That, of course, petered out with the Red Devils choosing to retain incumbent manager Erik ten Hag.

Really, though, the biggest indicator that a change could be coming is the sense that England had peaked under Southgate. After a trip to the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup, Southgate led England to its first international final since 1966 at Euro 2020. Agonizingly, England fell to Italy thanks to the Three Lions’ traditional kryptonite – penalties. The team wouldn’t get any closer to triumph at the 2022 World Cup, losing to eventual finalists France, 2-1, in the quarters.

Through three games, that sense has intensified with England finishing atop Group C, but doing so in about as unconvincingly a manner as possible. The Three Lions started play with a 1-0 win over Serbia that saw them fight for their lives to hold on in the closing stages. Another poor effort followed in a 1-1 draw with Denmark before a listless performance in a scoreless draw with Slovenia. While England were tipped to top the group and still did, it’s the way they went about it that has drawn widespread consternation from England fans and pundits alike.

What’s hard to escape is that Southgate no longer knows what his best XI looks like. In the first two games, Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was used in central midfield. It was a poor fit and it did not benefit either the player or the team. Afterwards, Southgate referred to the decision as “an experiment” with the Euro seeming to be an odd time to undertake one. Alexander-Arnold’s replacement in the Slovenia match was Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher, who struggled in the role and was replaced at halftime by 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo of Manchester United.

There have been problems up top, as well. Starting in front of Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden, Harry Kane has too often been isolated and taken out of the play. While Foden has looked lively and dangerous at times, his final ball has let him down. Bellingham, an absolute revelation in his first season at Real Madrid, hasn’t been allowed to operate where he is most comfortable and can be most impactful.

Even with this state of affairs, England realizes it’s in a strong position to make a run should it live up to expectations. Goliaths Spain, Germany, Portugal and France are all on the other side of the bracket. While the side they’re on is no picnic, it’s undeniably the weaker of the two.

Crystal Palace centre-back Marc Guehi, perhaps England’s standout player at the tournament, says the team is still firmly behind Southgate.

"He has been fantastic for England,” Guehi said. “If you look at his record, it speaks for itself. Everyone is behind the manager, and we have a really close tight-knit group just focused on the next group. Everyone appreciates him, especially me. He gave me my debut for England, and he’s showed so much confidence in me. I am really grateful and I'm sure the rest of the team is as well."

Not only is the team still backing its manager, they haven’t lost any belief in themselves.

"I think what builds confidence is togetherness, performances, the fact that we haven’t lost a game yet, which is really important,” Guehi said. “I think all the other things you can’t really control."

The third-place side in Group E after a victory over Belgium, loss to Ukraine and draw with Romania, Slovakia is in the knockouts for the second time in the past three Euros. While they recognize that England hasn’t lived up to expectations, thus far, they remain leery of such a powerful opponent.

“You can say that England are not at their best, but at some time they will click and kick on. It is just a question of when,” Napoli midfielder Stanislav Lobotka said.

Verona midfielder Ondrej Duda says his team is perfectly fine with not being the favourite in the matchup.

"Of course this match is going to be different,” Duda said. “But it’s just one match. We’ll either win it or we won’t. This is the knockout stage, so the chances are 50-50. It will definitely be an interesting match. I don’t expect England to play the same way they did in the group stage. Now, everything’s at stake, you either win or lose. As the underdogs, we can surprise people, and I believe that’s what will happen."

One of the biggest questions for Southgate was the availability of Foden, but that appears to have been answered well before the match. The Premier League Player of the Year had returned to England for the birth of his third child. There was some concern as to whether or not he would be available for Slovakia, but Foden will be back in Germany in time for the match. Still, Foden could be benched in favour of Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon.

England and Slovakia have met on six previous occasions with England winning all but one of them. The lone match that didn’t end in a Three Lions win came in their only meeting at a major tournament. In the group stage of Euro 2016, the two teams played to a scoreless draw. Only Duda, Juraj Kucka, Peter Pekarik and Milan Skriniar remain on the Slovakia roster from that match. Kane is England’s only holdover.

POTENTIAL ENGLAND XI (4-2-3-1): Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Marc Guehi, Kieran Trippier; Kobbie Mainoo, Declan Rice; Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Anthony Gordon; Harry Kane

POTENTIAL SLOVAKIA XI (4-3-3): Martin Dubravka; Peter Pekarik, Denis Vavro, Milan Skriniar, David Hancko; Juraj Kucka, Stanislav Lobotka, Ondrej Duda; Robert Bozenik, Lukas Haraslin