Euro 2020: Why victory over Scotland gives England boss Gareth Southgate welcome selection options - Stuart Rayner

Three years on from their final group game against Belgium, the temptation to try to “game” the Euro 2020 draw could lie in wait for England.

Today, though, that would just be getting ahead of themselves and in tournament football that can be very dangerous indeed.

Even after one game, three points leave England very well placed to make the knockout stages but beyond putting everyone’s mind at rest, getting the job done at Wembley tonight could be important for them.

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Anyone who needs any extra motivation this evening is clearly in the wrong profession, but it is there anyway.

TRIAL RUN: Jordan Henderson has had only 45 minutes of football since February due to an injury that kept him out of England’s opening win against Croatia. Picture: Nick Potts/PA
TRIAL RUN: Jordan Henderson has had only 45 minutes of football since February due to an injury that kept him out of England’s opening win against Croatia. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

The victory over Scotland that will book England’s place in the last 16 would allow manager Gareth Southgate to treat the final group game a bit more like the friendly Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire need.

The worry with including Henderson and Maguire in the 26-man squad was not if they could get fit enough to play a part in the tournament but could they be match-fit enough.

If they can be, such are their footballing and leadership qualities you would obviously want them involved.

Southgate has the medical opinions and the evidence of training sessions we do not, but from the outside it still feels like a big if. Maguire will feature at Wembley tonight and Henderson could too but there is plenty of rust to scrape off and to see them come unscathed through a healthy chunk of Tuesday’s final group game against the Czech Republic would certainly be reassuring.

IN OR OUT: England's Harry Maguire may be willing, but is he ready and able after an injury issue? Picture: Michael Regan/PA

On the final weekend of the Premier League season Jurgen Klopp said Henderson would be “fine” for the tournament and the Liverpool captain insists he is. But actions are speaking louder than words.

Klopp’s assessment came straight after a Premier League match Henderson had watched as an unused substitute. He then played 45 minutes out of a possible 180 of pre-tournament warm-up football with England. When Southgate took Harry Kane off to stiffen his midfield on Sunday it was Jude Bellingham, not Henderson, who came on.

Southgate has decided Maguire will feature tonight but Tyrone Mings’s excellent performance against Croatia on Sunday could be as big an obstacle to him starting as the Sheffielder’s ankle.

Henderson’s last game for Liverpool was February 20, Maguire’s previous football May 9. At the time it seemed an unnecessary risk picking them in even a 26-man squad but Southgate made his choice, and showed yet again with Sunday’s team selection he knows what he is doing.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Gareth Southgate, chats with his coaching team at St George's Park. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Generally speaking, the chance to rotate a squad of England’s depth and quality would be welcome, not just for Henderson and Maguire but for the likes of Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho if they do not start against the Scots. Good performances from any of the stand-ins would only sharpen the competition for places and increase Southgate’s confidence in his substitute options.

If England can go into their final group game guaranteed a top-two place, a tricky conundrum throws itself up.

Win the group and they stay at Wembley in the last 16, but probably against either the world (France) or European (Portugal) champions. Come second and they face the second-best team from Spain, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia. Much better on paper, and a trip to Copenhagen is not a high price to pay for it.

As when England faced Belgium in their final 2018 World Cup group game, their opponents might even have the same dilemma. Three years ago Belgium won the group but both teams made it to the semi-finals.

Speaking to the media this week, Rashford insisted jiggery-pokery with the draw would not come into England’s thoughts.

“We want to win every game, it’s as simple as that,” said the forward. “We’re not thinking about coming second to get an easier run.

“We want to approach every game with the mentality that we’re going to win. That’s always been the mentality of the staff and the players here so not much is going to change in that regard.”

He would hardly say any different, but for a team with ambitions to win the tournament, taking that approach has a lot going for it.

Southgate hinting he might be scared of France, Portugal or anyone else is not a good message when they could just as easily pop up as opponents further down the line.

But for now it is just about beating Scotland and if England think it will be easy, they will be proven wrong.