England head into European Championships for the first time in a number of years with genuine hope that maybe, just maybe this might be their year. 50 years on from the World Cup success in 1966 there is real cause for optimism that England can go all the way. Here are five reasons why Hodgson, Rooney and co can cement their place in history this summer and win Euro 2016.
Goals, goals and more goals
The emergence of Jamie Vardy and the form of Harry Kane this season means that England head into a tournament with a front line, who between them boast one shy of 50 Premier League goals this campaign. With Marcus Rashford also in the squad, Daniel Sturridge (if he can stay fit) and Wayne Rooney all more than capable of leading the line (that’s another 21 Premier League goals for the stats lovers out there), Roy Hodgson will be hopeful that this England side will score more than the measly two they managed at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago.
The year of the underdog
If this is to be the year of the underdog after Leicester City’s incredible achievements this season then there are a number of teams that will be confident that they can cause an upset in France. France have been installed as favourites by most bookmakers, including BetVictor, but on paper they don’t have the best squad. They are missing key players in Karim Benzema and Rafael Varane and arguably they have been given the tag of “favourites” because they are playing on home soil. That said, in the two previous international tournaments France have hosted they have gone onto to win the tournament so the omens are good for Didier Deschamps’ side.
Germany and Spain both have stronger squads than England but the Three Lions beat Germany 3-2 in Germany at the end of March and that will give Roy’s boys confidence should the two sides meet in the latter stages of the competition. Meanwhile, Spain showed at the last World Cup that they are beatable and coupled with the 1-0 loss to Georgia earlier this week which again highlighted their weaknesses, there are reasons for England to be optimistic. For the first time in a while, there isn’t a clear favourite and England are in good shape to take advantage.
The draw has been kind to England
The opening game of any tournament is always difficult and I don’t expect the game against Russia to be any different. Reading an article on my commute home earlier this week in the Evening Standard reminded me how England have historically struggled in the opening games of major international tournaments. In fact, England can do something on Saturday against Russia that no previous England team has managed at a European Championships and win their opening game.
In all eight European Championship finals that the Three Lions have played in they have never won their first match; four draws and four defeats.
This time around, England have a favourable group, no Holland (Euro 96), no Germany (Euro 2000) and no France (Euro 2004, Euro 2012). On paper, we should have enough firepower to beat Russia, Wales and Slovakia. Winning all three group games for the first time is a distinct possibility. (England’s current highest points total in the group stages of a European Championship is seven points from three games which they achieved at Euro 96 and then again at Euro 2012.)
Roy has gone with the form guide
Not only do England head into the tournament off the back of a perfect 10 out 10 record (the only team to qualify with maximum points) they can also reflect on recent victories over France, world champions Germany and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Granted the three warm-up games in the build-up to the tournament have been a little unconvincing but having that unbeaten feeling heading into the tournament is always a positive.
Only 12 of the players that played in the last World Cup have made it into Roy Hodgson’s England’s team this time around. This England team is young, hungry and energetic and unlike in previous tournaments, England have options all over the pitch. Yes, there will be doubters that say that England are weak defensively but experienced players such as Gary Cahill and Joe Hart will complement the full backs well, whether Hodgson decides to start with Rose/Bertrand, Clyne or Walker.
The stability that Eric Dier provides shouldn’t be underestimated and with the flair of Delli Alli and the fit again Jack Wilshere the England team has, in my opinion, the right balance to go and attack teams without fear and take the game to them. It seems that Hodgson’s mantra, unlike in the World Cup debacle two years ago, will be to encourage England to outscore their opponents which they are more than capable of doing given the talent that is available.The players in the squad deserve to be in the squad based on merit and for their performances in the Premier League last season.
England have the youngest squad at the European Championships and the likes of Kane, Rashford and Alli should go into the tournament without any fear.
Expectations are low but the numbers point to a good tournament
World Cup Winners in 1966, Semi-Finalists at Euro 96, Lineker’s golden boot in 1986, England the perennial underachievers on the big stage have saved their best performances for the tournaments taking place in years ending in a six. Something to think about over the next month or so…
Ultimately football comes down to the 90 minutes on the pitch and as any football fan will tell you anything can happen. Fans can and will dream of success and perhaps after reading the above there is more expectation than hope…
Enjoy the tournament!