So, is it coming home? Well in a way, it’s already here. England will play all three of their opening Euro 2020 games at Wembley. Top the group and Gareth Southgate‘s players will only require their passports once on their path to the final, which will also be held at the national stadium. After 55 years of hurt, Harry Kane could emulate Bobby Moore by leading his country to glory on the hallowed Wembley turf.
That is not the only cause for optimism. Southgate has selected from one of the deepest English talent pools in recent memory, with those at their peak like Kane, Raheem Sterling and Harry Maguire supplemented by young prospects Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and teenager Jude Bellingham. Others like Mason Mount and Jack Grealish have also emerged to much excitement.
There is so much talent, in fact, that Southgate had a problem fitting all of his most gifted players in, even with Uefa expanding squad sizes from 23 to 26. Trent Alexander-Arnold has arguably been the finest young right-back in Europe over the past three years, but his inclusion was the subject of great debate before he ultimately withdrew due to injury.
Still, there are talented alternatives at right-back, including Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker, both of whom were part of the semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup. It was a magical summer and, as painful as the semi-final defeat by Croatia was, the best performance at a major international tournament for 22 years certainly captured the public imagination. There was a hint of fortune about it all, though. England were arguably over-reliant on set-pieces, suffered from a general lack of creativity and benefitted from a kind draw that really should have taken them to the final.
You should keep the M&S waistcoat mothballed for now too, as Southgate-mania has waned slightly since that summer. Criticism has mostly come from a minority of supporters rather than pundits or the press but it has focused on a few common themes. Southgate has been labelled a conservative coach, one who makes uninspiring selections in midfield and who shows a reluctance to trust unique talents like Grealish.
Much of that is unfair, and ignores the complexity of building a balanced side, but there have been a handful of setbacks and underwhelming performances. The Nations League semi-final collapse against the Netherlands in 2019 bore similarities to the Croatia elimination a year earlier, and underwhelming performances in the same competition this season saw England briefly threatened by relegation.
Qualifying for this tournament was not without blemish, either. England suffered their first qualifying defeat in a decade against the Czech Republic, who they will meet again in Group D alongside Croatia and Scotland. A draw that appears straightforward on paper in fact includes two of the few nations to have beaten Southgate’s England during his four-and-a-half years in charge and the oldest of enemies.
Still, with even the best third-placed teams reaching the knock-out stages, England should have more than enough to progress. They are joint-favourites to win the tournament outright alongside France, after all. The real test of their credentials will come against the world champions – potential opponents in the round of 16 – and other leading nations of a similar calibre.
England have not had this much individual quality at their disposal since the early to mid-2000s, and certainly have enough to compete, but will need to conjure up more of 2018’s magic if this time it really is coming home.
13 June (14:00): England v Croatia – Wembley, London
18 June (20:00): England v Scotland – Wembley, London
22 June (20:00): Czech Republic v England – Wembley, London
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion), Jordan Pickford (Everton).
Defenders: 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).
Midfielders: 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).
Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).
Ones to watch
Star man: Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Arguably the best player in the Premier League this season, Kane has plundered more goals and assists than anyone else and continued to adapt and develop his game. At nearly 28-years-old, he is in his prime, which is precisely why he feels it is time to leave Tottenham. Speculation regarding his future is likely to run into the tournament but Kane himself will not be distracted. Captaining England to success has always been his number one goal.
Breakout talent: Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Can you still qualify as a breakout talent when you’ve won three Premier League titles and are preparing to start a Champions League final? Possibly not, but this is Foden’s first major tournament and one he might not have played in had it been delivered on schedule. The balletic 20-year-old has only established himself as a regular starter for City this season, pushing Sterling out of the first-choice line-up. Is he about to do the same at international level?
England’s draw is relatively kind, especially as second seeds Croatia are up first, but winning Group D would probably mean playing one of France, Germany or Portugal in the last-16. That could either kick-start another summer of Southgate-mania or lead to the same old blame games and recriminations. For all England’s recent progress, you still expect them to come up short. More semi-final disappointment would not be a surprise.