Harry Maguire was a bedrock in defence, while his passing freed up team-mates to move forward
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
It was the sort of pass Harry Kane dreams of. A ball straight down the middle that broke the opposition lines and put him in front of goal.
Kane could not score, but the fact he had been teed up by Harry Maguire illustrated just why England manager Gareth Southgate was prepared to gamble on the central defender’s fitness at the European Championship.
This particular correspondent has been among those to question the wisdom of including players who were not fit to start the tournament, but Maguire, in his first appearance since May 9, gave England a different dimension in their third and final group game.
That is no slight on Tyrone Mings, who had been excellent in England’s first two games and who can boast an excellent record of 11 clean sheets in his 12 international caps. England conceded in two of those games, but Mings was only sent on in the Denmark game when Southgate’s men were already a goal down.
Given how well Mings and John Stones had played together against Croatia and Scotland, it was always going to take more than a good defensive display to put Maguire back in the box seat to start for England from here on in.
So the fact the 28-year-old distributed the ball so well from the back may well just give him the edge on Mings for the last-16, however harsh that may be on the Aston Villa man, who replaced Stones late on.
Most of the attention will go to Jack Grealish’s assist against Cezch Republic and yet Maguire’s would have been even better had Kane managed to find the back of the net in the 26th minute.
Just like Grealish, Bukayo Saka impressed for England on Tuesday night and Maguire was able to set the Arsenal star free on the right on more than one occasion with his long passing.
England had been crying out for more attacking threat and Maguire’s inclusion, albeit in the centre of defence, helped to give Southgate’s team more dynamism going forwards.
It may have simply been a coincidence, but left-back Luke Shaw, who had disappointed against Scotland, performed much better next to his Manchester United team-mate.
Shaw was the man who released Raheem Sterling in just the second minute for the Manchester City forward to hit the post before he later opened the scoring.
Other than helping England to get on the front foot, Maguire also defended well and showed no signs of suffering from the ankle injury that had kept him out for six weeks.
He made a vital block inside his own penalty in the first half, in which goalkeeper Jordan Pickford also made a good save to his right from Czech Republic striker Patrick Schick, who had scored three goals in two games at the Euros before visiting Wembley.
Ahead of kick-off, Southgate had said: “I think Harry has been the outstanding English defender in the league this season. He has been such a bedrock for us. It was a difficult call because Tyrone has been a colossus for us, but it is a good opportunity for Harry to get 90 minutes."
Maguire, though, has made life slightly easier for Southgate thanks to this performance and he almost set up substitute Jude Bellingham by driving forwards and laying the ball into the midfielder’s path inside the penalty area. It took a good Czech challenge to prevent a goal.
Not everything about England’s defending, with Maguire back in the team, was perfect as they looked vulnerable on crosses and were grateful that West Ham United midfielder Tomas Soucek fired one first-half chance wide.
The half-time introduction of Jordan Henderson, in place of Declan Rice, did not go entirely to plan as England lost some of their control of midfield in the second period.
But England, whose Achilles heel was meant to be their defence, have completed the group stages with three clean sheets and Maguire’s return is undoubtedly a timely boost with tougher tests now to follow.
England vs Czech Republic – Euro 2020