England has beaten the Czech Republic 1-0 in a workmanlike performance to advance to the European Championship last 16 as the winner of Group D.
The Czechs are also through to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed teams.
Raheem Sterling headed his and England’s second goal of the competition in the 12th minute but the initial injection of pace, intensity and crowd-pleasing excitement brought by Jack Grealish and teenager Bukayo Saka gradually dissipated as the game petered out into an utterly forgettable second half.
England will return to Wembley on Tuesday to face the runners-up from Group E – likely to be France, Germany or Portugal – with Sterling up for any challenge.
“At some point you are going to have to face the best teams; that’s the whole point of being in the tournament which is to challenge yourself,” he told ITV.
“Our objective from the beginning was to win the group. It’s tournament football and things are going to be difficult at times but we need to keep doing what we’re doing as a team which is being solid and taking our chances when we can.”
The Czechs will have to wait to find out who they play next after they were dislodged from second place by Croatia, which beat Scotland.
Croatia will play the Group E runners-up – Sweden, Slovakia, Spain or Poland – in Copenhagen on Monday.
With England and the Czechs already assured of progress and with the nagging question of whether second place was a better option than winning the group hanging over the game, it hardly added up to a white-knuckle, winner-takes-all occasion at Wembley.
That changed, however as, for the third successive game, England struck a post early on. This time it was Sterling who lifted the ball past advancing goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik with two minutes on the clock.
Ten minutes later, Sterling hit the target with a close-range header from a delicious floated cross by Grealish after a driving run by Saka had splintered the Czech rearguard.
Making his first appearance of the tournament, the 19-year-old wide man showed a willingness to run with the ball and, with Grealish also a constant threat, the hosts looked much more threatening at times.
The Czechs were neat and tidy without carrying a huge amount of penalty box threat.
Substitute Jordan Henderson thought he had scored his first goal for England five minutes from time after a scramble, only to see it ruled out for offside.
There remains plenty for England to improve on but it reacted well to a disrupted build-up that included Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell being forced into isolation – in the fallout to their recent interaction with Scotland’s Billy Gilmour, who has tested positive for COVID-19.
In the group’s other game, Luka Modric curled home a magnificent finish as Croatia shrugged off a slow start to the European Championship to beat Scotland 3-1 and progress to the last 16 in style, while leaving its opponents again on the tournament scrapheap.
Nikola Vlasic and Ivan Perisic were also on target for Croatia in a victory that lifted Zlatko Dalic’s side, so leggy and unconvincing in its first two games, to second in Group D on four points.
Scotland, which scored its only goal of the tournament through Callum McGregor, finished bottom of the pile on one point.
It was Croatia’s first win against Scotland following the nations’ sixth clash.
Deprived of Billy Gilmour, after his positive COVID-19 test, Scotland seemed lacking in midfield in Glasgow. Croatia bossed the ball, dominating possession for large periods before deservedly taking the lead after 17 minutes as Vlasic scored his sixth goal for his country.
There seemed little danger when a cross from the right floated towards the far post but Perisic towered above his marker to head down for Vlasic to swivel and finish low into bottom corner.
The goal drained the life out of Hampden Park but Scotland struck back as the clocked ticked towards halftime.
Croatia failed to clear a cross from the left and it fell at the feet of McGregor just outside the box.
He took a touch and drilled the ball low into the bottom corner to score his first goal for his country, and Scotland’s first in any major tournament for 23 years, breathing life back into the home crowd.
The reprieve did not last long.
Scotland’s John McGinn wasted a great chance when he failed to get a proper connection on the ball from less than a metre out at the far post and that was punished at the other end by Modric’s moment of inspiration.
Croatia worked the ball nicely around the box before teeing up Modric from 20 metres. He scored in the far corner of the goal to restore Croatia’s lead after 62 minutes.
Perisic applied the coup de grace in the 77th minute, sending a glancing header from a corner into the net, ensuring that Scotland’s dreadful run of never making the knockouts at a major tournament in 11 attempts continued.