David James: England must play the game and not the occasion against Scotland
Thursday, 17 June 2021
In his second exclusive UEFA EURO 2020 column, former England goalkeeper David James looks ahead to Friday's game against Scotland.
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England controlled the game against Croatia; they limited them to one shot on target. In so many ways it was the perfect opening performance. People so often want dominant 3-0 or 4-0 wins, but I think that kind of start can cause more problems because it then becomes the expectation.
England bossed that opening 15-20 minutes and suddenly everything slowed down. I was concerned we were going to let Croatia back into it. I still don't know if it was by design or a call made on the pitch, but when Luka Modrić started to get into the game, Kalvin Phillips stepped in to snuff it out. It really was a controlled performance.
I didn't see any stress in the game, even when it remained 0-0 for as long as it did. That impressed me. The game slowed down, but the players focused on the task ahead.
You can see now that England have got more than one style to their game. Harry Kane didn't get many opportunities, but that just emphasised that there's not necessarily as much reliance on him in this side. That's great because against the better sides in the latter stages it won't always be possible just to go through that focal point. There's creativity in different areas of this team. I enjoyed the diversity of their performance.
Now it's on to Scotland. England have the better players, but that doesn't mean they're guaranteed to win – football isn't like that. Hardly any of this England squad would have any memory of that iconic game between the sides at EURO '96. Half the squad wasn't even born when that game took place, so I don't think they're going to be getting carried away with that narrative.
England are going to have most of the support and it's up to the players to do the job. They simply must play the game and not the occasion. I'm confident.
That opening win does give Gareth Southgate a bit of a cushion to try different personnel, but certainly don't expect to see him experimenting against Scotland. A player like Jack Grealish might thrive in this sort of game; he'll be chomping at the bit to get on the field. There are so many options.
I tipped England to win when we spoke last week, but then again I always think England are going to win! The other team who have stood out for me so far are Italy; they've got so many young, impressive players. But I'm still going for England because it just feels like the time is right.
Just a word on Cristiano Ronaldo, too. He's a phenomenon and I just love watching him. His longevity and durability are amazing – the fact he's competed at five EUROs is testament to his dedication to staying fit. I remember Rio Ferdinand once telling me that he'd never seen anyone train as hard as Ronaldo did at Manchester United. All these years later and that dedication continues to pay off.