England face Serbia in Euro opener with weakened defence

FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2024

England faces the first test of their credentials as one of the Euro 2024 favourites when they launch their campaign against Serbia on Sunday, with injuries and illness adding to worries about an already depleted defence.

Under pressure to win the first major men's trophy since 1966, Coach Gareth Southgate must decide whether to risk centre-half John Stones, who has only just overcome an injury and was isolated from the squad this week with a virus.

Left-back Luke Shaw looks set to miss the Group C opener in Gelsenkirchen as he recovers from a hamstring problem suffered in February.

Despite losing their final warm-up game 1-0 at home to Iceland a week ago, England boasts one of the most potent attacks in Germany.

Captain Harry Kane looks to be flanked up front by in-form Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka with playmaker Jude Bellingham offering an attacking threat from midfield.

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - England Training - Blankenhain, Germany - June 13, 2024 Englands Harry Kane during training REUTERS/John Sibley

But it is in defence where England, who lost the Euro 2020 final to Italy in a shootout, look less formidable.

Stalwart centre-half Harry Maguire failed to make the squad due to injury and right-footed Kieran Trippier looks set to play on the left until Shaw can return.

Lewis Dunk will likely make his first major tournament appearance in the middle of defence, possibly alongside fellow newcomer Ezri Konsa if Stones is not risked.

The patched-up backline will come up against an erratic Serbia with an experienced attack led by Aleksandar Mitrovic, who notched 28 goals in 28 matches in the Saudi Pro League and is a major threat in the air.

Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic has scored 13 times for Serbia in 27 games and former Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic will also be joining the attacks.

Serbia are coached by Dragan Stojkovic, who as a player helped Yugoslavia reach the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals.

Pivotal to England's hopes of minimising pressure on their backline will be Declan Rice, who is expected to play more as a midfield shield than he did in a stand-out campaign for Arsenal last season when they were runners-up in the Premier League.

A big question is who Southgate picks to play alongside Rice with hard-running Conor Gallagher, 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo and possibly the even less-tested Adam Wharton, 20, in the frame.

If England can establish a solid base, fans can expect flair from their frontline with exciting young talent in the form of Cole Palmer, Anthony Gordon and Eberechi Eze all poised to feature from the bench.