So is it coming home? Well, in a way, it’s already there. England will host all three Euro 2020 opening games at Wembley Stadium. The leading group and the players from Gareth Southgate only need their passport once on their way to the final, which will also be played in the National Stadium. After 55 years of injury, Harry Kane could emulate Bobby Moore by leading his country to glory on the sacred Wembley turf.
That is not the only reason for optimism. Southgate has been picking from one of the UK’s deepest talent pools lately, complementing young talents Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and teenage Jude Bellingham at their peak like Kane, Raheem Sterling and Harry Maguire. Others like Mason Mount and Jack Grealish are also very excited.
There’s so much talent out there that Southgate struggled to accommodate all of their most talented players, even as Uefa expanded their squad size from 23 to 26. Trent Alexander-Arnold was arguably the best young right-back in Europe in the past three years, but his inclusion was the subject of heated debate before he finally resigned due to injury.
Still, there are talented right-backs alternatives, including Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker, both of whom played in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals. It was a magical summer and as painful as the semi-final defeat against Croatia was, the best performance in a major international tournament in 22 years certainly caught the audience’s imagination. There was, however, a touch of happiness in it. England were arguably too reliant on set pieces, suffered from a general lack of creativity and benefited from a friendly draw that should have brought them to the final.
M & S’s vest should also be mothballed for the time being, as the Southgate mania has subsided somewhat since this summer. Criticism came mainly from a minority of supporters rather than experts or the press, but it focused on some common issues. Southgate has been described as a conservative coach who makes uninspired decisions in midfield and refuses to trust unique talents like Grealish.
Much of this is unfair and ignores the complexities of building a balanced team, but there have been a handful of setbacks and disappointing performances. The breakdown in the Nations League semi-finals against the Netherlands in 2019 had similarities to Croatia’s elimination a year earlier, and with disappointing performances in the same competition that season, England were briefly threatened with relegation.
The qualification for this tournament was not without flaws either. England suffered their first qualifying defeat in a decade against the Czech Republic, which will meet again in Group D alongside Croatia and Scotland. A seemingly simple tie on paper actually spans two of the few nations that have beaten Southgate’s England during its four and a half year tenure and are the oldest of the enemies.
Even the best third-placed finishers make the knockout round, but England should have more than enough to advance. After all, they are the common favorites to win the tournament with France. The real test will come against the world champions – potential opponents in the round of 16 – and other leading nations of similar caliber.
England hasn’t had as much custom quality since the early to mid-2000s and certainly enough to compete, but needs to conjure up more of the 2018 magic when it really comes home this time around.
June 13 (2:00 p.m.): England v Croatia v Wembley, London
June 18 (8:00 p.m.): England v Scotland v Wembley, London
June 22nd (8:00 p.m.): Czech Republic v England v Wembley, London
goalkeeper: Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion), Jordan Pickford (Everton).
defender: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Ben White (Brighton), Conor Coady (Wolves), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester .) City), Kieran Trippier (Atlético), Kyle Walker (Manchester City).
midfield player: Jude Bellingham (Dortmund), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham), Bukayo Saka ( Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Dortmund).
Forward: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).
Star man: Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Kane, arguably the best player in the Premier League this season, has looted more goals and assists than anyone and has adapted and developed his game further. At almost 28, he’s in his prime, which is exactly why it is time for him to leave Tottenham. Speculation about his future is likely to flow into the tournament, but Kane himself is not being distracted. Leading England to success has always been his ultimate goal.
Breakout talent: Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Can you still qualify as a breakout talent if you’ve won three Premier League titles and are preparing to start a Champions League final? Maybe not, but this is Foden’s first major tournament and one he might not have played if it had been played on time. The ballet 20-year-old has only established himself as a regular starter for City this season, displacing Sterling from first choice. Will he do the same internationally?
England’s draw is relatively friendly, especially with Croatia coming first in second place, but a Group D win would likely mean France, Germany or Portugal make it to the round of 16. That could either spark another summer of Southgate mania or lead to the same old finger pointing and accusations. With all of England’s recent advances, you still expect them to fall short. Another disappointment in the semi-finals would not be a surprise.