AFC Bournemouth legend Steve Fletcher believes England must up their game if their European Championship dream is to become a reality.
Fletcher was full of praise after the Three Lions achieved their first aim by topping Group D thanks to a 1-0 win over Czech Republic at Wembley on Tuesday.
But writing in his fifth Euro 2020 column, Fletcher said Gareth Southgate’s team would need to improve their level of performance in the knockout stages.
England will meet the runners-up from Group F in the last 16 – either France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary – the clash taking place at Wembley on Tuesday.
Cherries’ appearance record holder Fletcher, whose grandfather Jack Howe was capped by England in the 1940s, will be penning his opinions for afcb.co.uk throughout the tournament.
I thought we did enough to win and looked comfortable against the Czechs. We had more shots than them and they hardly threatened our goal.
We all know Jack Grealish can unlock a door and is the most Gazza-like player we’ve got.
I was surprised he didn’t start the Scotland game but wasn’t surprised he didn’t start the first game against Croatia because Gareth Southgate put out a team he knew and trusted.
It was always only going to be a matter of time before Grealish was introduced and I was a little disappointed when he came on against Scotland because he played out wide and didn’t get a chance to get on the ball enough.
Against the Czechs, he saw a lot of the ball and showed what he can do. He’s the type of player who can unlock a defence because he can draw two or three players towards him. He rides tackles and wins a lot of free-kicks.
When you draw defenders towards you, things open up for runners and he can slip people in. He’s not just good at travelling with the ball, he can see a pass and has a good weight of pass.
Is he a luxury player? I don’t know. Was Gazza a luxury player? Maybe to a degree.
But if you want to be beating the better teams in the world, you are going to need someone who can produce a bit of magic and he is capable of that.
The more he plays, the more confidence he’s going to get. He will start to feel at home and to feel he belongs more.
It was good to see him get the assist and good to see Raheem Sterling score again. I know the second goal was disallowed but I thought it was a comfortable 1-0 victory.
There is still a lot more to come. I said we didn’t get out of second gear against Scotland and I thought we didn’t get out of third against the Czechs.
But you can look at that two ways.
You can say we’re not firing and we need to be or we’ve still got plenty more in the tank.
We are certainly going to need more in the next game because it looks as if we’re going to be playing one of the fancied teams.
There is no room for error in the knockout stages because, if you have a bad game, you’re out.
With the group games, you have a chance to rectify an indifferent performance. If a few players have an off day in the knockout stages, it’s see you later and you’re on the way home.
We are going to need everybody to be on it and step it up a couple of gears. I think we’re capable and the whole country thinks likewise.
But we’ve already seen a couple of different sides to England in this tournament. They were lethargic against Scotland and beat Croatia and Czech Republic without really getting into their stride.
I’m hoping we can take off the shackles and start to play the football we know we’ve got in our locker.
Saying all that, we’re unbeaten and we finished top of the group with two wins and a draw.
Before the tournament started, I think the realists would have said we would get seven points, the optimists would have gone for nine.
So far, it’s job done.
I would hope there is much more to come because you don’t get a second chance if you don’t perform in the knockout stages and we don’t want that to happen.
We’re going to need to step it up and we’re going to need to do that in our next game because it looks like we’re going to be playing one of the big boys.
We need to pump it up. It’s like we’ve been on the A-roads and now we’re hitting the motorway!