Analysis: Grealish the spark that lights England touchpaper

·2-min read
Euro 2020 - Round of 16 - England v Germany

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - Clean sheets and shielding midfielders can get you so far in tournament football but eventually everyone needs a game-breaker and, seemingly reluctantly, Gareth Southgate finally acquiesced when he sent Jack Grealish on to challenge Germany on Tuesday.

The Wembley last-16 clash was locked at 0-0 as the clock ticked towards the 70-minute mark, with the old rivals locked in a tactical wrestling match, neither daring to take too much of a risk but neither seemingly overly troubled defensively.

Finally Southgate cracked and brought on Grealish for Bukayo Saka, a decision greeted with a huge roar by most of the 42,000 crowd, desperate to have something to get their teeth into.

Even his very presence on the left wing forced the German defence to re-evaluate their approach and within five minutes they were cut apart as Grealish played a beautifully-weighted pass into the path of Luke Shaw, whose first-time low cross was turned in for the opening goal by Raheem Sterling.

Grealish had even more of a hand in the second, driving to the line, wrapping his left foot round the ball and crossing perfectly for Harry Kane to nod in and make it 2-0 four minutes from time to spark an explosion of noise in the stadium.

"That's what happens when you put balls into the box. That what happens when you are prepared to run at people and commit people," said pundit Alan Shearer, who scored the only goal last time England beat Germany at a major tournament in an ultimately fruitless group stage win at Euro 2000.

Grealish, who also delivered the killer cross for Sterling's header in the 1-0 group stage win over Czech Republic, would have been disappointed not to start, and the crowd were willing him onto the pitch every time he warmed up.

Southgate, though, will feel vindicated by his safety-first approach. Czech Republic, Croatia and Germany have all shown how dangerous they can be up front at this tournament but none could make a dent in England who, even after changing the untroubled back four to a back three on Tuesday, have yet to concede.

The England manager is not about to throw caution to the wind for the quarter-final against Sweden or Ukraine, but even at his most conservative it would seem an extraordinary choice not to play Grealish from the beginning on Saturday in Rome.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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