How far can England Go?
The European Championships are just around the corner, and you can feel the anticipation rising for the postponed tournament. The flags are out, ‘Footballs Coming Home’ is playing and Phil Foden has even got a Gascoigne-esque haircut. But what are the bookies favourites England’s real chances going into the summer?
The Pan-European tournament was supposed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the championships, but as with many things over the past year, it was forced to be postponed due to the coronavirus.
But now ‘Euro 2020’ is on the horizon, with the opening fixture taking place on Friday evening in Rome, with one of the 11 host nations Italy taking on many people’s dark horses, Turkey.
England are also one of the host nations, with Gareth Southgate’s side playing all three of their home games at Wembley. The 90,000-capacity stadium is also the venue for five knockout games, including both semi-finals and the final.
It will be the first time Southgate takes charge of the national side going into the European Championship’s, and he will be hoping to vastly improve on the 2016 tournament, where England were embarrassingly knocked out in the last-16 by Iceland.
However, he does have the World Cup semi-final to build on, with an arguably much stronger side coming into these Championships, as the likes of Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Foden, are all coming into the fray.
The three lions have a very competitive but winnable group, playing Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic, in that order. The favourites will need to finish in the top two places in the group to automatically qualify, but third place could also see them through to the last-16.
England’s opening fixture takes place on Sunday, against the nation that knocked them out of the World Cup. Therefore, this is bound to be a tricky occasion and with it being the opening game, it is likely to be a tight affair.
This Croatia side is arguably not as strong as the one that reached the World Cup final, with star players like Luka Modric coming to the end of their career.
Despite defeat in the World Cup final, Southgate has proven he can beat Croatia, gaining victory over Zlatko Dalić’s side in the Nations League, shortly after the World Cup.
Following this, Wembley will host a highly anticipated encounter with another of the home nation’s, Scotland.
Despite the difference in quality between the two national sides, it is likely to be a challenging fixture, purely down to the rivalry itself. The Scots are not to be underestimated as well, with game changing players in their squad, including the likes of Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and John McGinn.
England will close out their group campaign with a game against an awkward Czech Republic side, who actually beat the three lions on their way to qualify for this tournament.
England will very much be looking for revenge, but it won’t be easy with the Czech side having two of West Ham’s stand out players, in Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal.
As outlined, all these group games will be difficult, but with a squad with such quality in-depth, Southgate really should be managing to get England across the line.
Things could become seriously difficult if England were to expectedly qualify, with a group win pitting them against the runners-up of the group of death. This would mean a likely last-16 opponent of either World Cup winners France, European Champions Portugal or arch-rivals Germany.
This may seem like the end of the road for England, but the positive of this fixture is that it would be taking place at Wembley, so there would be the home advantage of having a limited crowd.
It could be argued that finishing second in the group would be more beneficial, as it would result in a last-16 tie against the runner-up of Group E featuring Spain, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia.
In terms of England’s 26-man squad, it is now complete, with Brighton’s Ben White being announced as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s replacement.
England’s abundance of quality in attacking areas is evident, but the back line is where many think Southgate’s tactics will be undone. This was apparent in the two recent warm-up friendlies against Austria and Romania. Despite, both games ending in victories and clean sheets, the likes of Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady looked shaky to say the least.
England fans will be hoping that Harry Maguire will be available to pair with John Stones to form a more formidable pairing, after the world’s most expensive defender has been battling with an ankle injury. There does appear to be some hope of this, after he recently returned to full training.
The three lions have never won the European Championships, and this year seems a better opportunity than ever, with the number of exciting prospects in the team frightening. The prospect of bringing the Henri Delaunay Trophy home at Wembley is also one that seems too good to be true and would be the perfect way to bring light to what has been a truly awful past year for many.