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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 July 2024

Euro 2024: Weak at the back, England fear Serbia's prowess in the air

Coach Gareth Southgate — under pressure to win the first major men’s trophy since 1966 — must decide whether to risk centre half John Stones, who has only just overcome an injury and was isolated from the squad this week with a virus

Reuters Gelsenkirchen Published 16.06.24, 11:08 AM
Jude Bellingham of England controls the ball with the chest during a training session in Jena, Germany, on June 11.

Jude Bellingham of England controls the ball with the chest during a training session in Jena, Germany, on June 11. Getty Images

England face the first test of their credentials as one of the Euro 2024 favourites when they launch their campaign against Serbia on Sunday, with injuries and illness adding to worries about an already depleted defence.

Coach Gareth Southgate — under pressure to win the first major men’s trophy since 1966 — must decide whether to risk centre half John Stones, who has only just overcome an injury and was isolated from the squad this week with a virus.

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Left back Luke Shaw looks set to miss the Group C opener in Gelsenkirchen as he recovers from a hamstring problem suffered in February.

Despite losing their final warm-up game 1-0 at home to Iceland a week ago, England boast one of the most potent attacks in Germany.

Captain Harry Kane looks set to be flanked up front by in-form Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka with playmaker Jude Bellingham offering attacking threat from midfield.

But it is in defence where England, who lost the Euro 2020 final to Italy in a shootout, look less formidable.

Stalwart centre half Harry Maguire failed to make the squad due to injury and right-footed Kieran Trippier looks set to play on the left until Shaw can return.

Lewis Dunk is likely to make his first major tournament appearance in the middle of defence, possibly alongside fellow newcomer Ezri Konsa if Stones is not risked.

The patched-up backline will come up against an erratic Serbia with an experienced attack led by Aleksandar Mitrovic, who notched 28 goals in 28 matches in the Saudi Pro League and is a major threat in the air.

Dusan Vlahovic has scored 13 times for Serbia in 27 games and Dusan Tadic will also be joining the attacks.

Pivotal to England’s hopes of minimising pressure on their backline will be Declan Rice, who is expected to play more as a midfield shield than he did in a stand-out campaign for Arsenal last season.

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