It's Coming Home: Can England win EURO 2020?
Background Image Via: Flickr/Steve Cadman. CC BY-SA 2.0.
Heartbreak in 1996 will be forever etched in English memories. Gareth Southgate bravely offered to take a spot-kick in the pressure-cooker of a major semi-final. Unfortunately, he'd miss, sending Germany on their way to glory.
Fast-forward twenty-five years, Southgate has a chance at redemption. This England side had people believing again in 2018 thanks to an unlikely World Cup semi-final berth. Can the Three Lions go one better in EURO 2020?
It's fair to say England's last two warm-up games flattered to deceive. Two wins from two, sure, though the overall performances left plenty to be desired. That said, this squad is blessed with some incredible attacking quality, led by captain Harry Kane who certainly knows where the back of the net is.
England picks up exactly where they left off in their last major tournament; an important game against Croatia. A victory here would go some way towards easing the painful flashbacks of that heartbreaking extra-time exit, though Southgate has to be brave and pick an open, expansive starting line-up.
Games against local rivals Scotland and an underrated Czech Republic side follow. Four points should be more than enough to get the job done and book your place in the knockout rounds.
That's where things become tougher. Win the group or finish as runners-up and you're going toe-to-toe with a European elite. Be it France, Portugal or Germany, England will have to prove they can beat the best far earlier than they'd have liked. Can the Three Lions beat those sides? Absolutely, they're second-favourites for a reason.
Taking risks is the order of the day. England's biggest problem has been a lack of belief in themselves. This is the home of football. The country that started it all. We boast some of the finest players in all the land and sometimes, those talents go underused due to waning confidence. Southgate has to be courageous. He has to put trust in the likes of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, who have turned into real beacon of hopes over the last year or so.
No more five-at-the-back. No more of that defence-first mindset. Go for the jugular as that's the strength of this England side. Let's be honest, a half-fit Harry Maguire is our best centre-back right now, while who knows what John Stones will turn up? As for Tyrone Mings, the less said, the better.
Declan Rice provides a midfield base that Southgate can build from. Sprinkle in Mason Mount's energy and add Jordan Henderson's leadership, England does have a really decent foundation. As per usual, it all comes back to how daring we plan to be.
Sure, the draw could have been kinder, while the friendly matches were a pretty painful watch. That said, anything goes at a major tournament and Southgate has some very attractive options at his disposal.
Although Southgate himself isn't the biggest name, he's the perfect manager for these major tournaments. The 50-year-old knows what it takes to get the job done. He's ready to right those wrongs he made as a player now that he's a manager. Whatever happens, as long as England give it their all and play with fearlessness, this EURO 2020 squad will forever be remembered as heroes.
Can England go all the way? Yes. Will it be easy? No. Is Football Coming Home? I hope so, but let's just enjoy the ride!