A 'strange environment' for Southgate
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A 'strange environment' for Southgate

England's progress at Euro 24 has a strong soap opera feel to it. They must be one of the few teams ever to top their group at a Euro tournament and still get booed off by their fans and pilloried in the media. To be fair, the fans cheered their team during the game and saved the boos for after the final whistle... all very English.

"Boring Boring England" was how the Daily Mail summed up the 0-0 draw against Slovenia and if you didn't get the message the newspaper reminded us it was "another dull and desperate display."

The Sun chose to put a large photo on its front page of an England fan fast asleep with a headline "Yawning Glory." The fan has since claimed the pix was taken before kick-off and he didn't miss a minute of the encounter, although he probably wished he had.

As for England manager Gareth Southgate, in addition to the booing he had to dodge cups of beer thrown at him by fans angry with the drab performance. He must be wondering whether it's all worth the hassle. Southgate remained defiant but admitted the hostile reaction from the press, pundits and fans had created "a strange environment."

Despite the gloom and doom there is a glimmer of hope for Southgate's team. England have been very fortunate with the last 16 draw. It had looked like they would be facing the Netherlands but thanks to Georgia upsetting Portugal they are coming up against Slovakia and avoiding most of the big teams. The likes of Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium are all on the other side of the draw.

It is a great opportunity for England to progress as they have never lost to Slovakia. If they are successful in tomorrow's game, Southgate's team will face the winners of the Switzerland v Italy match. However England really need to improve dramatically. Maybe giving Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins an outing might be a start. There is some concern over talisman Jude Bellingham who after a promising first game has really looked out of sorts.

Southgate might take comfort in the fact that past winners of Euro have not always got off to good starts.

Georgia's stunning 2-0 win over Portugal had to be the biggest shock of the group stages. Georgians had been overjoyed at simply qualifying for the tournament, so to progress to the last 16 is the icing on the cake.

One 'dark horse' to look out for are unfancied Austria who topped the "Group of Death", which included France and the Netherlands.

There must be something about Euro tournaments that attracts own goals. There have been seven scored so far and you wouldn't rule out more to come. In the last Euro in 2021, a total of 11 own goals were scored, eight of them coming in the group stage. With all these own goals it's no surprise then that the race for the Golden Boot is wide open and is currently led by the unlikely figure of Georgian striker Georges Mikautadze with three goals.

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