By Lori Ewing

BLANKENHAIN, Germany (Reuters) – While England already have one foot in the knockout round of Euro 2024 and can finish no lower than third in their group, they need to make their presence felt at a tournament that has seen optimism around them wither after two lacklustre games.

England need to avoid defeat in Cologne to guarantee progress and will definitely top the group with a win. If Denmark fail to beat Serbia in the other Group C match, England will qualify regardless of their result against Slovenia.

Slovenia will go through to the last 16 if they win.

Supporters and pundits have levelled scathing criticism at Gareth Southgate’s England side after their 1-0 win over Serbia and anxious 1-1 draw with Denmark that saw fans boo them off the pitch before the players beat a hasty exit from Frankfurt Arena.

Southgate had some concerning post-game comments, pointing to the players’ conditioning after long and gruellingly seasons.

“We are not pressing well enough, with enough intensity,” he said. “We have limitations in how we can do that with the physical condition.

“We cannot press as high up the pitch as we might have done in the qualifiers, for example,” he added.

“And not keeping the ball well enough. It’s as simple as that. We have to keep the ball better and build with more control. Then we will be defending less and we’ll have more confidence.”


The biggest questions are around what changes Southgate will make after he went with the same lineup in both games for the first time in 16 matches.

“We felt the right thing to do against Denmark was to give confidence to the players we picked in the first game,” he said. “We had won the previous game.”

Southgate took off Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is struggling out of position in midfield, early in the second half against Denmark, and forwards Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden followed some 15 minutes later.

Slovenia were heading for their first victory at a European Championship when Serbia’s Luka Jovic equalised seconds before the final whistle to snatch a 1-1 draw.

“We have proven that we deserve to be at Euro 2024,” Slovenia manager Matjaz Kek said. “Football can be really cruel. But I am convinced that this team will get its satisfaction.”

England’s defence could have their hands full coping with Slovenia striker Benjamin Sesko, who has drawn comparisons to Manchester City’s towering forward Erling Haaland.

“(England) know we have played two great games, they are not at their best, they’re still great of course, but I think now is the best opportunity to play against them and show them the best we can,” said Sesko, who turned down reported interest from Arsenal among other top clubs to extend his say with Leipzig.

“In every single position they have amazing players,” he added. “And what’s more exciting is that we have a great team and we can show our skills against them … I know we can surprise them. I am sure we are going to shine.”

(Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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