Soccer

Jude Bellingham header guides England to victory over Serbia in Euro 2024 opener

Harry Kane saw a late header saved onto the bar.

Jude Bellingham scored the game’s only goal in Gelsenkirchen
Jude Bellingham scored the game’s only goal in Gelsenkirchen (Martin Rickett/PA)

Jude Bellingham’s brilliant header saw England start their quest for European Championship glory with a hard-fought victory against Serbia.

Three years on from their heartbreaking Wembley final defeat to Italy, the road to Berlin began with a tricky Group C opener in Gelsenkirchen.

But Gareth Southgate’s side passed their first Euro 2024 assignment as England held firm on a night when Bellingham’s thunderous early header proved enough to beat Serbia 1-0.

The result puts them top of Group C after Denmark were held to a 1-1 draw by Slovenia ahead of the Euro 2020 semi-finalists going toe-to-toe again in Frankfurt on Thursday.

England flew out the blocks at the Veltins Arena and looked ready to put in a statement performance after Bellingham powerfully headed home Bukayo Saka’s deflected cross in the 13th minute.

But unlike fellow Euro 2024 contenders Germany and Spain they were unable to put their opponents away as Serbia’s physicality and nous saw them wrest control after the break.

England managed to keep the Balkan outfit at bay and Harry Kane saw a late header saved onto the bar, but improvements are needed moving forwards.

Still, it was a far better outcome than their World Cup quarter-final defeat to Portugal in Gelsenkirchen 18 years ago and means Southgate has now won all four tournament openers.

Jude Bellingham celebrates the winning goal
Jude Bellingham celebrates the winning goal (Martin Rickett/PA)

Much of the build-up to Sunday’s encounter surrounded what would happen around the match after German police categorised it as “high risk”.

These Euros are the first time England supporters have travelled en masse since 2016 and videos emerged of a few skirmishes in the city centre.

But the seven arrests confirmed before kick-off were all Serbian, whose fans whistled ‘God Save the King’ and saw their national anthem booed in retaliation.

There was a fantastic atmosphere and the evening began with Southgate’s side dominating possession and patiently probing in a bid to breach their opponents’ well-drilled back five.

Jude Bellingham celebrate his goal
Jude Bellingham celebrate his goal (Martin Rickett/PA)

Bellingham proved a handful from the outset and the midfielder powered England into a 13th-minute lead.

The 20-year-old darted towards the box having played wide to Kyle Walker, who expertly slipped Saka behind Serbia’s backline.

The England forward’s cross deflected off Strahinja Pavlovic and was met by a thundering six-yard header by Bellingham, who became the first European player to make an appearance at three major tournaments before turning 21.

The Real Madrid star also showed the confidence and skill required against a strong Serbia side looking to ruffle English feathers.

The Euro 2020 runners-up continued on the front foot and Trent Alexander-Arnold sent an effort bobbling wide before giving Serbia their first sniff.

Aleksandar Mitrovic came closest for Serbia
Aleksandar Mitrovic came closest for Serbia (Adam Davy/PA)

The converted midfielder’s miscontrol ended with former Fulham sharpshooter Aleksandar Mitrovic fizzing narrowly wide of Jordan Pickford’s near post from the edge of the box.

It was a warning for an otherwise dominant England, with rapid Walker racing through only to drag the ball across the face of goal.

Serbia came back into things and used their physical prowess, but impressive tournament debutant Marc Guehi held firm at the back alongside John Stones.

England were required to make some important interventions after the break, with Dragan Stojkovic’s side seeing loud penalty appeals fall on deaf ears.

Mitrovic went down under pressure from Kieran Trippier but the officials were having none of it and Serbia’s skipper was quickly replaced by Dusan Tadic.

Alexander-Arnold’s stinger was all England managed by way of response as tension rose.

Harry Kane (left) saw an effort hit the bar in the second half
Harry Kane (left) saw an effort hit the bar in the second half (Martin Rickett/PA)

Conor Gallagher came on for the Liverpool man as Southgate looked to add energy and change the dynamics, with Jarrod Bowen soon following in place of Saka.

The West Ham forward immediately made an impact, with his 77th-minute cross met by a Kane header that Predrag Rajkovic pushed onto the crossbar.

Jordan Pickford was forced into a save to deny Dusan Vlahovic from distance, with Kane heading away Veljko Birmancevic’s strike into the ground.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic flashed off target as Serbia sought an equaliser that evaded them as ‘Sweet Caroline’ echoed around the ground at full-time.