London (AFP) – Lacklustre England were denied an early ticket into the Euro 2020 last 16 on Friday as Scotland held their historic rivals to a goalless draw while World Cup finalists Croatia face an uphill task to qualify.
Elsewhere, Sweden took a step towards the next round with a 1-0 win over Slovakia and Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen was released from hospital six days after suffering a cardiac arrest.
England took on Scotland at Wembley for the 100th time in a competitive fixture but for just the second time at a major tournament, 25 years after they met at Euro 96.
Despite having just 2,500 tickets in the crowd of 22,500 limited by coronavirus restrictions, Scottish fans made their presence felt in a sizzling atmosphere in the pouring rain.
England, who beat Croatia in their opening match of the tournament, knew victory against their fierce foes would seal their progress with a match to spare.
But Scotland dug deep and gave Gareth Southgate’s side some scares as they sealed a deserved 0-0 draw.
The home side started brightly, with John Stones hitting the post with a header, but lacked fluency and an attacking edge and captain Harry Kane was again peripheral.
Lyndon Dykes saw the visitors’ best effort of an impressive second half cleared off the line by Reece James.
“Fair result, fair play to Scotland, they defended well,” Kane told ITV.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but it’s another point closer to qualification and that’s our ultimate goal. We just have to recover and look forward to the next game in a few days.”
“It was a tough game,” he added. “Scotland defended really well, made good blocks at the right times. We know no game is going to be easy. It’s a European Championship and Scotland are playing for their lives.”
The Czech Republic and England both have four points in Group D, with Scotland, who lost their opener against the Czechs on Monday, and Croatia on one apiece.
Earlier, Croatia picked up their first point with a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic in Glasgow but captain Luka Modric was disappointed with his team’s showing.
Czech striker Schick’s first-half penalty gave him the early lead in the race for the Golden Boot with his third goal of the tournament, but Ivan Perisic’s excellent 47th-minute strike earned Croatia a draw.
However, the 2018 World Cup runners-up will have to beat Scotland on Tuesday and hope other results go their way if they are to reach the knockout rounds.
“There is a bitter taste after this match, as we didn’t win, said Modric. “We entered the match really disorganised.
“We looked better in the second half. We scored that goal and we could have scored even more, but unfortunately we didn’t win. Now, we have to defeat Scotland to go through.”
– Eriksen discharged –
Slovakia blew their chance to qualify for the last 16 with a match to spare after losing to Sweden in Saint Petersburg and conceding top spot in Group E to their opponents.
The Swedes were heavily criticised for their ultra-defensive approach in their opening match, a goalless draw with Spain, but Janne Andersson’s team were far more forward-looking on Friday.
Emil Forsberg’s penalty 13 minutes from the end earned Sweden a win which gives them four points, one more than second-placed Slovakia.
Spain sit third in the group with a single point ahead of their game against Poland in Seville on Saturday, boosted by the return of captain Sergio Busquets to Luis Enrique’s squad after testing negative for Covid-19.
Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen was released from hospital following a “successful operation” nearly a week after suffering a cardiac arrest against Finland.
Doctors said Thursday that Eriksen, 29, would have a heart defibrillator implanted to regulate his heart rhythm, casting doubt over whether he will be able to play again.
“The operation went well, and I am doing well under the circumstances,” Eriksen said in a statement from the Danish Football Union.
“Thank you for the massive number of greetings — it has been incredible to see and feel.”