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Dominic Calvert-Lewin was deep into an explanation of why he owes so much to Duncan Ferguson, his coach at Everton who, as a player, had represented Scotland with such distinction. It has been for the technical help, all of those extra finishing drills after training, and the mental aspect, too. “He’s always been the man there that’s put his time aside to help me perfect my craft,” the England striker says. “I can do nothing but thank him for that.”
Calvert-Lewin even claimed that Ferguson would be happy for him if he scored for England against Scotland in Friday night’s much anticipated Euro 2020 fixture. So, would he dedicate the goal to him. A pause. “I probably wouldn’t do that,” Calvert-Lewin says, with a smile.
There are limits, as there have to be when one of the game’s oldest and fiercest rivalries is considered.
Declan Rice has noted how David Moyes, his manager at West Ham and another proud Scot, has “battered” the England midfielder about the game at Wembley and it is fair to say that similar conversations have taken place between many of Gareth Southgate’s squad and various Scottish colleagues.
On one level, this is the big one, a must-win for both teams and, at the very least, a dare-not-lose. But from an England perspective, all of the noise, which will build steadily to the moment that 22,500 fans take their places in the stadium – 2,600 of them Scots – has to be managed with the utmost care.
The energy of the occasion will doubtless inspire as it did for England in the 1-0 win against Croatia with which they opened their tournament on Sunday.
The players have spoken about how they were driven by the thrill of having supporters inside Wembley. But the key against Scotland will be to channel the passions correctly and not become embroiled in battles that could see the focus slip.
England believe that they have the quality to defeat Scotland, as they famously did at the same stage of Euro 96 and at the same venue. They must bring the clearheadedness to show it.
“For me, it is going to be another game,” Raheem Sterling says. “Of course, there is history but, at the same time, in football you can’t get too drawn into the history. You have got to be focused on the task ahead. We can’t be going in there fighting old battles.”
Sterling was asked about his preparations; how he was spending his downtime. His answer was one that might have brought incredulity from some of those to have contested this fixture down the decades.
“Meditating,” Sterling says. “I’m doing a little bit of meds. I try and do it before I go to sleep … just taking time out, being thankful and grateful for the day, just trying to get connected. On the whole not a lot of us get connected to our bodies and our brains so I am trying to get everything as one connected and be in a good place.”
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England are in a good place after Croatia; relaxed and confident. Their preparations had not been ideal – complicated by injuries to Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson, the absence of a host of players at the start of the buildup due to European club final commitments.
The squad were also shaken by the collapse of Christian Eriksen during Denmark’s game against Finland on Saturday, particularly Harry Kane, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, who played with the midfielder at Tottenham.
“We were on the coach down to London and one of the lads had the game on their iPad and it was just complete shock, very scary,” Calvert-Lewin says. “It makes you realise how precious life is. My thoughts are with Christian and his family and I think perhaps it was a bit harder for the people that knew him.”
England showed composure against Croatia, all the way down to the detail of applying pressure to the end rather than dropping back to protect a 1-0 lead, as they have tried and failed to do so often in the past.
The environment is excellent at St George’s Park, the team spirit high. Sterling articulated the belief that the squad is stronger than the one that reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2018. “One hundred per cent – in every area,” he says. “Everything just feels good [after Croatia] and you have just got to try and build on that.”
England’s players have said the right things about how Scotland performed in the 2-0 defeat against the Czech Republic on Monday, pointing out that they created chances; how a few breaks went against them. But in their hearts, they will know that Scotland lacked quality at both ends; that they are beatable – if England can bring the right attitude.
“When you try to ignore something then usually I want to think about it more,” said Tyrone Mings about the emotion and history of the fixture. “If I walk into this press conference and someone says: ‘Don’t look over in that corner,’ I would be really interested to look over there.
“It is more about embracing the fixture and understanding the importance of what it means to the fans but not letting that cloud any judgment or emotion that we may have or are feeling going into the game. The best way to win a game is to stay composed and be in control of our thoughts and actions.”