Superman Jude Bellingham was so good he overshadowed a team who failed to excel. OLIVER HOLT on England's heart, soul and engine in the 1-0 Euros opening win over Serbia

Jude Bellingham looked on a different level to everybody else in Gelsenkirchen 

It is hard to say where Jude Bellingham played against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen. Everywhere would probably just about cover it. England began their European Championship campaign with a win but Bellingham was so good that he overshadowed it.

England were relatively ordinary. A win is a win is a win in an opening game and England got what they needed without blowing the doors off, as Germany had done in their victory over Scotland on Friday night.

Bellingham, though, was far from ordinary.

He scored the winning goal in the 13th minute, a brave, crashing header, but that was only a small part of what made his performance special. He was the engine of the team at the AufSchalke Arena. He was its heart, too. And its soul.

He patrolled the left of midfield but he played number 10, too. He waltzed through the heart of the Serbian team time after time but he broke up their attacks, too. He turned Ivan Ilic inside out on the Serbian byline and he stole the ball off Dusan Vlahovic deep in England’s half. He played like Superman.

It's 1-0 to England. And of course it's Jude Bellingham!#BBCEuros #Euro2024 #SRBENG pic.twitter.com/pegZuDdP5D

— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 16, 2024

Jude Bellingham scored England's first goal of Euro 2024 and ran the show in midfield

Jude Bellingham scored England's first goal of Euro 2024 and ran the show in midfield

Bukayo Saka provided the assist as England made a winning start to their Euro 2024 campaign

Bukayo Saka provided the assist as England made a winning start to their Euro 2024 campaign

Bellingham, only 20, played like Superman and at times looked on a different level to everyone

Bellingham, only 20, played like Superman and at times looked on a different level to everyone

Bellingham is only 20. He is fresh off his first season with Real Madrid where he won La Liga and the Champions League and was voted Spanish football’s best player. Some worried he might be tired coming into this tournament. He wasn’t.

There were times when he looked as if he were on a different level to everyone else on the pitch. Declan Rice was superb at the base of England’s midfield, too, and Marc Guehi, who everyone had worried about so much, was accomplished in defence.

But this win was about Bellingham, who, to no one’s surprise, was named man of the match. Watching him here felt like going back 20 years to the European Championship in Portugal when Wayne Rooney announced himself on the international scene like a force of nature.

There is not the same element of surprise about Bellingham. Everyone already knows how good he is. But if some had begun to carp at the praise being lavished on him and started to suggest there was too much hype around him, this will have shut them up. Believe the hype. It’s real.

Bellingham’s goal meant he has now scored at a World Cup and a European Championship, making him only the second man, after Michael Owen, to achieve that. He seems to break new records and attract new accolades every time he plays.

England did not excel against Serbia. There were nervous moments. Jordan Pickford had to make a fine save late on. Phil Foden was peripheral. Trent Alexander-Arnold started in midfield and played well but not well enough to silence those who doubted his inclusion.

But this was about the win. England’s victory means they will almost certainly qualify for the first knock-out stage so the job is done. What will remain was Bellingham’s performance and the fervent hope that he does not get injured. Because with him, anything is possible in Germany this summer.

Before the game, both nations chose their own versions of fearsome, awe-inspiring athletes to send out motivational messages on the big screens hovering over the centre circle. The Serbs picked Novak Djokovic, to deliver an address. England plumped for Russ Cook, the Hardest Geezer, who has just run the length of Africa.

England started a Euros campaign for a win for just the second time in 11 attempts

England started a Euros campaign for a win for just the second time in 11 attempts

Watching Bellingham felt when Wayne Rooney announced himself on the scene at Euro 2004

Watching Bellingham felt when Wayne Rooney announced himself on the scene at Euro 2004

Trent Alexander-Arnold was given the nod in midfield after a year learning the role for England

Trent Alexander-Arnold was given the nod in midfield after a year learning the role for England

Jordan Pickford made some important saves as Serbia ramped up the pressure late on

Jordan Pickford made some important saves as Serbia ramped up the pressure late on

Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic sprang a surprise when he left out the quicksilver Dusan Tadic, who acts as the link between midfield and attack for his side, a sign interpreted by many that Serbia were going to try to pepper England’s defence with long balls aimed towards Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic.

Serbia didn’t see enough of the ball for that plan to work. England dominated the early stages. Foden and Bellingham were influential immediately, finding space between the lines, looking instinctively for each other as they tried to find gaps in the massed Serbia defence.

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Serbia could barely escape their own half, choosing to try to soak up pressure instead. England had faced similar tactics against Iceland in their last warm-up match and Wembley and lost. Any worries about frustration creeping in again were soon dispelled.

England took the lead after 12 minutes. Kyle Walker played a clever ball inside the full back that freed Bukayo Saka, Saka, who had a superb game, got to the byline and crossed to the edge of the six yard box. Bellingham ran towards it.

It was a straight fight with Andrija Živković to see who wanted it more, who had read the path of the ball better. Bellingham won that fight. He flung himself at the ball and his header bulged the back of the net. He and Alexander-Arnold kneeled before each other in a choreographed celebration.

It was the kind of goal Bellingham had been scoring all of last season for Madrid. He got 19 in La Liga alone, playing in an advanced midfield role. It is why Southgate has chosen to play him there in this European Championship in Germany and it paid off immediately.

England should have gone two up midway through the half. Saka freed Walker on the overlap and Walker bore down on goal. England’s right back is so fast, no one was ever going to catch him.

He bore down on Predrag Rajković in the Serbia goal but was caught in two minds between shooting or squaring the ball to Foden and Kane, who were both waiting to pounce in the middle. Walker clipped the ball past Rajkovic but it rolled agonisingly wide.

Kobbie Mainoo replaced Bellingham to make his competitive England debut in the last minutes

Kobbie Mainoo replaced Bellingham to make his competitive England debut in the last minutes

Jarrod Bowen made an instant impact when he came on and almost assisted Harry Kane

Jarrod Bowen made an instant impact when he came on and almost assisted Harry Kane

Despite a quick start it was a nervy second half as Serbia created multiple chances to score

Despite a quick start it was a nervy second half as Serbia created multiple chances to score

The longer the half wore on, the more Bellingham bestrode it. He was majestic. There were times when he looked as if he were playing Serbia on his own. And beating them. He rode challenges, he ran through the opposition midfield as if it were not there. He broke up Serb attacks. He prompted England raids. He whipped up the England fans. He riled opponents.

Serbia did manage a few incursions before the interval. Alexander-Arnold gave the ball away cheaply in a dangerous area on the edge of the England box and Mitrovic lashed a snap-shot just wide of Pickford’s left-hand post. But, most of the time, when Serbia threatened, either Rice or Bellingham was there to thwart their plans.

Serbia began the second half with more purpose. Vlahovic fizzed a ball across goal that England scrambled away and Mitrovic went down in a heap when he challenged Jordan Pickford for a loose ball in the box. Mitrovic wanted a penalty but the referee waved away his claims.

England seemed vulnerable for the first time in the game. Their grip had loosened. Serbia took off Mitrovic and brought on Tadic. The momentum of the game had shifted. England were inviting pressure upon themselves. Now it was Southgate’s side camped deep in its own half.

Southgate needed to act and, midway through the half, he did. He took of Alexander-Arnold and replaced him with Conor Gallagher. It was the right thing to do. Alexander-Arnold’s influence had faded. His inclusion in midfield will remain a matter for debate. England needed Gallagher’s energy.

Conor Gallagher replaced Alexander-Arnold as Gareth Southgate tried to shore up the side

Conor Gallagher replaced Alexander-Arnold as Gareth Southgate tried to shore up the side

England fans gave their all to support the team, with Phil Foden's song becoming a favourite

England fans gave their all to support the team, with Phil Foden's song becoming a favourite

Aleksandar Mitrovic was unable to the net and was taken off just after the hour mark

Aleksandar Mitrovic was unable to the net and was taken off just after the hour mark

Jarrod Bowen came on for Saka soon after and that change almost paid off straight away. Bowen twisted past his man on the right and delivered a superb cross to the back post. Kane met it on the full but Rajković tipped his header on to the underside of the crossbar and it bounced out to safety.

England weathered a few more nervous moments. Pickford saved well from a rising shot from Vlahovic and England held out. When the final whistle went, there was a roar of relief from the England fans as well as triumph.

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