Jordan Henderson thinks England’s hopes of beating Germany in the Euro 2020 last 16 could rest on keeping the ball away from Toni Kroos as much as possible.
Gareth Southgate’s side came top of their group, taking seven points from games against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic without conceding a goal, ensuring they will begin the knockout rounds at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.
There, they will face Germany for the third time at a European Championship and the first in a knockout match since the Three Lions lost on penalties in the semi-finals of Euro 96.
Joachim Low’s side scraped through a challenging Group F, Leon Goretzka’s late equaliser against Hungary on matchday three ensuring they finished behind France and above Portugal thanks to their superior head-to-head record.
While England’s route through the groups was somewhat sedate, with two 1-0 wins and a goalless draw with Scotland, Germany won a six-goal thriller with Portugal before battling to a 2-2 draw with Hungary after falling 1-0 to France.
Amid their inconsistencies, midfielder Kroos has been exemplary for the 2014 world champions. No player has completed more passes at these finals than the Real Madrid man (280), with 217 of those occurring in the opposition half – by far the best return at the tournament.
Given Germany have averaged 64.7 per cent of the possession in their games, a figure lower only than Spain (76.1), Henderson is eager to disrupt Kroos’ rhythm as much as possible by retaining the ball and getting it into England’s forwards.
“They’re a top team. You go through every position on the pitch and they’ve got world-class players everywhere, so it’s always going to be a tough game,” he said on Thursday.
“With the ball, it’s extremely important to keep it, especially against Germany, who are a fantastic team who’ve got very good technical players who can dominate games with the ball. We need to be defensively solid, like we have been, because they’ve got players like Kroos that can hurt you.
“He’s a world-class player who can really hurt you with time and space, so we need to make sure that, without the ball, we’re really solid.
“When we get it, we need to be calm and composed, but also positive with the play, getting the ball forward and trying to create as many chances as we can because we’ve got some fantastic forward players who can hurt any opposition. If we can get the ball into them and let them do their thing, I think we can be in for a real good night.”
Penalties dominate much of the pre-match talk, not least because Germany beat England on home soil on spot-kicks 25 years ago, with current boss Gareth Southgate missing the crucial attempt.
Henderson was in the headlines during the warm-up for this tournament, the Liverpool man taking the ball from Dominic Calvert-Lewin before seeing his penalty saved during the 1-0 friendly win over Romania in Middlesbrough.
“It was blown out of proportion, to be honest, after the game,” Henderson said. “Nothing to be said internally. I was obviously disappointed to miss but I was more disappointed for Dom as well because he could have had another goal for England.”
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