There still remains a sour taste left in the mouths of England supporters from the embarrassment of Euro 2016.
Defeat to Iceland cut short that tournament and Roy Hodgson’s time in charge but the emergence of Gareth Southgate and his youthful, exciting composition gives fans reason to be optimistic heading into the summer.
Since the shambolic viewings four years ago in France, England have started to assemble a side capable of going all the way, reflected by the bookmakers – the majority placing the Three Lions as favourites to win the tournament. With the Euro 2020 final being played at Wembley Stadium, there is more incentive than ever to bring football home.
At Euro 2016, England suffered one of their most embarrassing defeats ever losing to Iceland
Iceland were competing at their first major tournament finals and they knocked England out
The embarrassing defeat at Euro 2016 cost Roy Hodgson his job as England manager
ENGLAND’S STARTING XI VS ICELAND (2016)
England’s XI: Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling; Eric Dier, Dele Alli; Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney (c), Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge.
But first let’s revisit the mess that was Euro 2016.
With Hodgson in charge of proceedings, there was an acceptance among many England fans that the team was not oozing class and playing slick, modern football.
But even so, defeat to Iceland was a horror show few saw coming.
Before that embarrassment, though, came optimism that was swiftly compromised. England began the group stages with a 1-1 draw against Russia before coming from behind to beat Wales in dramatic fashion, courtesy of Daniel Sturridge’s 92nd minute winner.
However, the Three Lions then failed to beat Slovakia in a 0-0 draw, which placed England second in the group behind Chris Coleman’s Wales.
The national embarrassment was felt but there has been more to cheer under the new regime
Gareth Southgate has transformed the side by putting his faith in young and exciting players
That did favour England’s chances of progressing, though, as they would face Iceland – appearing at a major tournament finals for the first time in their history – in the last-16 and anything but a routine win for Hodgson’s side seemed implausible.
The Three Lions struck early in the fourth minute through Wayne Rooney, but a quick-fire response from Ragnar Sigurdsson followed by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s winner was a day that would be remembered in history – and for the wrong reasons.
However, Hodgson left his post following the conclusion of the tournament in France, and after Sam Allardyce’s tenure came to an abrupt end, Southgate was appointed in September 2016. He wasn’t a manager that had previous credentials for playing exciting football, but Southgate has evolved and revolutionised the England system and style – all for the better.
ENGLAND’S STARTING XI VS CROATIA (2018)
England’s XI: Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire; Kieran Trippier, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli; Harry Kane (c), Raheem Sterling.
Most notably has been Southgate’s philosophy of bedding the younger players into the first-team squad. The likes of Jadon Sancho, Declan Rice, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Callum Hudson-Odoi are just a handful of the talent that has been introduced into the squad under Southgate, all of whom are capable and in contention to start at Euro 2020.
It comes down to that crucial word; excitement. For years England have lacked a team, not only capable of making the latter stages of competitions, but one that has captivated and intrigued the nation as much as Southgate’s fresh, youthful squad have.
Two years ago, England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990, and it was a summer that inspired the country. Losing to Croatia – who went on to lose to France in the final – was a bitter-sweet way to finish. It signified the end of England’s 2018 World Cup campaign, but the start of an exciting future.
A run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cyp in Russia demonstrated Southgate’s progress
Ultimately Croatia progressed to the final but England showed Iceland’s loss was behind them
Just four players who featured in the defeat to Iceland in 2016 also started against Croatia. It was a sign that Southgate was leaning more and more towards youth, which has propelled and expanded ever since.
Southgate, in his early days as England manager, opted for a back-three system which we saw deployed at the 2018 World Cup. However, he has since switched to a more traditional back-four system, giving the young, exciting, more attack-minded players the freedom to showcase their talent.
Take Sancho for example; a player who was called up to the England senior squad for the first time on October 4, 2018. He is now a star in the making with a huge role to play at Euro 2020.
Currently plying his trade in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, the 19-year-old has scored 16 goals and registered 17 assists in 32 games this season in all competitions, and is subsequently starting to attract attention from the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.
And now we are less than four months from the start of Euro 2020. England were drafted into Group D and face tough competition against Croatia, Czech Republic and the winners of the play-off path including Scotland, Israel, Norway and Serbia.
Tammy Abraham and Jadon Sancho (right) are among the players thriving under Southgate
England have preparation games scheduled ahead of the summer tournament, with clashes against Italy and Denmark to be played at Wembley Stadium on March 27 and March 31 respectively. The Three Lions will then travel to Vienna on June 2 to face Austria before returning home to host Romania at Villa Park five days later.
Southgate’s side will play each of their Euro 2020 group stage encounters at Wembley Stadium, with their first match to be played on June 14 against Croatia – the team they met just two years ago in the semi-finals of the World Cup.
It is clear to see that Southgate has made his mark on this current crop of players, and now is the chance to dissolve the embarrassment of Euro 2016 as we eagerly anticipate the prospect of becoming European Champions for the first time in our nation’s history.