It’s just over three months until the start of this summer’s big football spectacle.
The European Championships (or Euro 2020 as it will be known) this year will be played for the first time across a host of nations.
One of those venues is Wembley Stadium in London, and one thing history tells us is that when England host a major tournament, they tend to do rather well.
OK, so it’s only happened twice: The 1966 World Cup, when the “Three Lions” were crowned world champions, and Euro 1996, when a penalty shoot-out defeat against arch-rivals Germany cruelly ended their chances at the semi-final stage.
It’s fair to say – or certainly, this SBOTOP observer believes – that Gareth Southgate’s class of 2020 lacks the overall quality both the ’66 and ’96 boys possessed in abundance.
It is also one of football’s great quirks that Southgate, who failed to net a vital penalty in that shoot-out almost 24 years ago, is now leading his country back to where all the drama unfolded – Wembley Stadium.
Had England have failed to reach a tournament partly on home soil it would have been an embarrassment.
Had England not topped a group – they concluded their campaign in style last November – that contained mainly minnows, it would also have been an embarrassment.
The truth, though, is that the real work starts on June 14 when Croatia are the visitors, closely followed by as-yet-unknown opponents, and the Czech Republic.
Croatia were, of course, the side which broke English hearts at the World Cup nearly two years ago, but England have since exacted a modicum of revenge by beating them in the Nations League.
As it stands, the two goalscorers in that game may not even feature.
Of course, if skipper Harry Kane does recover in time – as he is on course to –he will almost certainly lead the line.
His leadership abilities and goalscoring record deserve immediate inclusion.
For Jesse Lingard, who has hardly featured for Manchester United of late, he has a struggle to get back into his club side, let alone his country.
So, who else should we expect in Southgate’s squad injuries (and suspensions) permitting?
In goal, Everton keeper Jordan Pickford fails to fully convince, but have his deputies enough experience?
The main challengers are surely on-loan Sheffield United shot-stopper Dean Henderson and Burnley’s Nick Pope, who made his first England start in their last fixture – a 4-0 win in Kosovo.
The 27-year-old will surely come under consideration for a starting spot at Euro 2020 if he continues his impressive form.
In front of them, Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez are likely to be Southgate’s preferred centre-back partnership. But should he opt for a back three because, let’s be honest, the England rearguard no longer has players of the calibre of Tony Adams, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell etc. – again, in my opinion.
If that is the case, then Kyle Walker or Aaron Wan-Bissaka have to be considered, if fit.
The left-back spot (Ben Chilwell, Danny Rose, Luke Shaw et al.) is not as clear-cut, while at right-back, Walker, Wan Bissaka, and Trent Alexander-Arnold deserve to be included but Liverpool’s young starlet would possibly be a better bet as an attacking wing-back, given his superb record of assists this term.
I’d certainly include Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings in the squad based on his form this term.
In the centre of the park, I do not think it’s as clear-cut. Southgate will have his certs with the Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and James Maddison but, personally, I’d like to see players such as Phil Foden (if he played regularly for his club), Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley and the versatile James Ward-Prowse enter the conversation.
Up front, assuming Kane and Marcus Rashford – out since January with a double stress fracture in his back – are back, then Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling are certs and, if he can continue his form, I would also like to see Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin come into the reckoning.
Those players would create some Euro 2020 highlights for England, surely?
Keep an eye on the Euro 2020 news and wait until nearer the time – when the squads are announced and the full groups are known.
England are worth a punt, but I would not go as far as to say they are ready to reach the final.
If England win their group, their last-16 tie would be in Dublin against the runners-up in a hugely competitive looking Group F – which already includes Germany, France and Portugal – with a potential quarter-final in Rome.
Should they finish second, it would be a trip to Copenhagen against the runner-up from Group E, which features Spain, before a quarter-final in St Petersburg. There are other possibilities if they are one of the best third-place finishers.
However, remember, tradition tells us that with a surge of optimism and home support, anything can happen.
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