ENGLAND 1, AUSTRIA 0
Bukayo Saka was England’s matchwinner as their final preparations for the delayed Euro 2020 got underway.
The 19-year-old Arsenal player, who the previous day made Gareth Southgate’s Euro squad, celebrated by scoring his first international goal.
It was a dream for Saka who said: “Probably the biggest moment of my career so far, the biggest moment was getting called up for England the first time and now to score the goal it sounds nice, it’s an amazing feeling for me.
“You dream of that as a kid, scoring for your country, coming through the age groups with England so to now do it here and score for the seniors it’s an amazing feeling and I hope I can have this feeling many more times.
“Every game is an opportunity to grow in confidence and chemistry with my team mates so today is another step in the right direction.
“It’s a big honour to be named in the final squad, grateful to Gareth [Southgate], happy that I get the opportunity to represent my country in a major tournament so I’m looking forward to it a lot.”Embed from Getty Images
The friendlies against Austria and Romania on Sunday, both at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, are Southgate’s last two warm-up matches.
But in the absence of the eight Manchester City and United players, as well as those from Chelsea, because of their European club commitments, the side against Austria is likely to show little resemblance to the one which will open their bid for Euro glory against Croatia a week on Sunday.
And that was underlined by five of the players who featured against Austria failed to make Southgate’s final cut – Jesse Lingard, Ben Godfrey, Ben White, James Ward-Prowse and Ollie Watkins.
Still, Southgate was able to look at some of the players who may be on the fringes.
Arsenal teenager Saka, selected because of his versatility, did his prospects no harm.
Neither did Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham who made his first senior start at the age of 17.
But the standout England player was Jack Grealish who is only just returning after a lengthy injury lay-off.
Pundit Roy Keane said: “He is the star man, he makes things happen. He has courage and always wants the ball in tight areas.
“Like Cristiano Ronaldo at Portugal, you need players like that in your team. It is brave.”
Southgate also praised him, saying: “Jack Grealish showed some lovely touches. You can see he’s still getting to full fitness – with the bursts you know he can make. He’s a quality player.”
And of England’s performance, Southgate added: “I thought we started very well. We used the ball well in the first hour or so.
“We were playing against a very good side. They have good players. They get in between the lines well.
“The first hour was good in terms of quality. After that we needed to make a lot of changes and preserve people. We got a bit disjointed and people had cramp. We were hanging on at the end. It was understandable given the changes.”
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier both started at full back. Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady were the centre-back pairing, Declan Rice and Bellingham the holding midfielders while Saka, Lingard, Grealish and Harry Kane provided the forward firepower.
Austria included a host of players who ply their trade in the Bundesliga, including David Alaba who has just left Bayern Munich to join Real Madrid.
England were playing in front of fans for the first time in 566 days with around 7,000 admitted to the Riverside Stadium.
But a sizeable number hardly covered themselves in glory as loud jeers sounded as the players from both sides took the knee before kick-off, though that was drowned out by a chorus of applause.
England made a bright start and in the fourth minute right-back Alexander-Arnold made an overlapping run, cut inside and forced debutant Daniel Bachmann, the Watford goalkeeper, to turn over his goalbound effort.
And from Trippier’s resulting corner, Bellingham fired straight at Bachmann.
But that early promise soon faded as England, with only two survivors from their last match against Poland in March, created little else in the opening period.
Late in the half, Grealish, the most fouled player on the pitch, threaded a great pass to Harry Kane, but Bachmann blocked well.
Austria had their moments as Christoph Baumgartner had an effort that dipped just over the bar and the same player burst through again only to be denied by a combined block by Tyrone Mings and Jordan Pickford.
The breakthrough came 11 minutes into the second period through 19-year-old Arsenal player Saka.
Grealish, Kane and Lingard were all involved in the build-up. Aleksander Dragovic slid in to clear from Lingard, but only diverted the clearance to Saka to score his first international goal from a tight angle.
England made a quadruple change after an hour as Rice, Mings, Kane and Lingard made way for Ward-Prowse, Godfrey, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Lingard.
Everton’s Godfrey almost made a nightmare debut with a wayward back pass to Pickford who, scrambling back, cleared off the goalline.
Austria almost equalised midway through the second period when they were saved by the fingertips of Pickford who turned RB Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer’s shot on to the crossbar.
England made a fifth change with 20 minutes left when Grealish was replaced by Brighton’s Ben White, the 45th debutant in Southgate’s time as manager.
It seemed as though Sabitzer was on a one-man mission to stave off defeat as a swerving shot from distance forced a decent diving save from Pickford.
And England were twice lucky in the closing stages not to concede an equaliser.
In the 89th minute substitute Christopher Trimmel crossed for Michael Gregoritsch, another replacement, who glanced a free header narrowly wide.
Then in the second of three added minutes, Austria went close again.
Pickford punched a clearance only as far as substitute Alessandro Schopf and his shot was cleared off the line by White.
And England ended up with 10 men after Alexander-Arnold picked up a knock and limped off with a thigh strain, a worry for the finals only days away.
England: Pickford, Alexander-Arnold, Trippier, Rice (Ward-Prowse 61), Mings (Godfrey 61), Coady, Saka, Bellingham, Kane (Calvert Lewin 61), Grealish White 71), Lingard (Watkins 61).
Subs (not used): Johnstone, Phillips, Henderson, Sancho, Ramsdale.