England’s Euro 2020 preparations got off to a winning start, with Bukayo Saka scoring his first international goal in a 1-0 victory for the hosts over Austria at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday – although a late injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold caused concern.
Gareth Southgate was missing 11 Champions League and Europa League finalists for the first of two warm-up games in Middlesbrough but Arsenal’s 19-year-old ace Saka showed why he made the cut for the 26-man tournament squad by capping a positive display with a smart close-range finish on 57 minutes.
More importantly for England’s Euro 2020 plans, though, Alexander-Arnold limped off in the final moments after appearing to hurt his left thigh clearing the ball up the line.
The Liverpool right-back had fought his way back into the squad for the tournament after being left out of the March internationals but immediately signalled to be substituted and had to be helped as he hobbled back to the England dugout.
“It’s obviously not a good sign that he’s had to walk off the pitch, and he was in some discomfort,” said Southgate afterwards, before suggesting the next 48 hours would be key to discovering the extent of the injury.
Alexander-Arnold had been one of several players to impress during the friendly against Austria, with Jordan Pickford, Jack Grealish, and 17-year-old Jude Bellingham also catching the eye.
England had understandably struggled to find their rhythm for periods through the game and Austria did rattle the woodwork in response to Saka’s strike, with Marcel Sabitzer forcing Pickford to tip his shot onto the bar.
However, they didn’t provide too stern a test for Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings, who are vying to start in England’s Euros opener against Croatia on June 13, should Harry Maguire not be fit in time.
Worryingly for Southgate, Alexander-Arnold may have given him another injury worry though, with the Three Lions’ second and final warm-up match against Romania on Sunday.
England Pickford (7), Alexander-Arnold (6), Coady (5), Mings (6), Trippier (6), Rice (5), Bellingham (7), Saka (8), Grealish (8), Lingard (6), Kane (6)
Subs: Calvert-Lewin (6), Ward-Prowse (5), Watkins (5), Godfrey (4), White (6)
Man of the match: Bukayo Saka.
How England edged Austria at the Riverside…
With so many players absent, Southgate fielded a mixed XI made up of some first-team certainties, players pushing for a starting spot, and others likely to be on the fringes or, in Jesse Lingard’s case, cut from the Euro 2020 squad all together.
However, just four minutes in, there were encouraging signs for the England boss as the returning Alexander-Arnold – playing right-back in a 4-2-3-1 – burst down his flank, latched onto a superb Harry Kane pass and fired a deflected shot over from a tight angle.
Seventeen-year-old Jude Bellingham made his maiden start for England, while Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings began an international together for the first time. Jesse Lingard also started the match, despite not making the Euro 2020 squad.
Bellingham, making his first start for his country, flicked home from Lingard’s shot following another corner soon after but saw his celebrations cut short for a foul by Mings in the build-up, before Saka volleyed wide from close range.
Harry Kane then showed his threat with the best chance of the game so far on the half-hour mark, testing Daniel Buchmann from a tight angle, moments after hooking a cross-shot towards Lingard.
At the other end, Mings boosted his first-team chances with some tidy defending before making an important block to deny Christoph Baumgartner in the box just before half-time.
The Austria midfielder appealed for handball after the ball deflected up onto Mings’ arm but his appeals were rightly waved away before Pickford – who had already drawn applause for some incisive passes out of defence – punched the resulting corner away confidently.
The start of the second half was punctuated with fouls on England players but when the hosts finally hit their flow, they pulled Austria apart to open the scoring.
Bellingham broke up play in midfield and the ball was shuttled on by Grealish to Kane. The striker picked out Lingard on the edge of the box and, when he laid it off for Grealish, a tackle by Sabitzer sent the ball into the path of Saka who tucked in from a tricky angle.
That was the cue for Southgate to make four changes – but it was almost a nightmare start to his international debut for Ben Godfrey, who had to be bailed out by Everton team-mate Pickford after sending a careless back-pass towards his own goal.
Pickford then came to the rescue again moments later, tipping Sabitzer’s fine effort onto the bar to underline his status as Southgate’s No1 choice in goal. However, he would have been wondering where his defenders were when an Austria set-piece fizzed across the face of his goal soon after.
Brighton’s Ben White – another player who won’t be at the tournament but remains involved with the group – came on for Grealish with 20 minutes to play and, slotting into midfield rather than defence, was off target when he tried his luck from range before Sabitzer again worked Pickford from a similar distance.
Then with just two minutes to go came the moment Southgate must have dreaded: a serious-looking injury to an important player.
There were no Austria players near him when Alexander-Arnold hit a left-footed clearance but he immediately clutched his left thigh and looked in trouble as he limped back towards the dressing room.
White was perfectly placed in the final seconds to boot Alessandro Schopf’s drive off the line as Austria pinned England back in the final stages but the injury to Alexander-Arnold could well prove to be the more significant talking point from England’s victory.
Opta stats – Saka follows Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain
- England have won their last seven friendly matches, their best run in friendlies since winning seven in a row under Sir Bobby Robson between June 1985 and May 1986.
- Aged 19, Bukayo Saka became the third teenager to score for England while playing for Arsenal, along with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
- Jude Bellingham became the youngest player to start a game for England (17y 338d) since Wayne Rooney in September 2003 vs Liechtenstein (17y 321d).
- England haven’t lost any of their last 19 matches when an Arsenal player has scored (W17 D2) since Francis Jeffers scored in a 3-1 home defeat to Australia in February 2003.
- Bukayo Saka was the 33rd different player to score a goal for England under Gareth Southgate, one more than scored for the Three Lions under Sir Bobby Robson and the most since 39 scored under Sir Alf Ramsey.
- Ben White became the fifth Brighton player to play for England after Tommy Cook, Peter Ward, Steve Foster and Lewis Dunk. England have won all seven matches when Brighton players have featured, the best 100%-win record when players from a club represent the England national team.
England’s second and final warm-up game is against Romania on Sunday; kick-off 5pm. Their Euro 2020 campaign then gets underway against Croatia on Sunday June 13; kick-off 2pm.
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