Southgate’s men looking to end 55 years of hurt
It’s coming home … in a manner of speaking. The 16th edition of football’s European Championships, postponed from last year, kicks off this Friday and, for the first time, games are spread across the continent rather than one host nation, although the business end will be held at Wembley Stadium.
Which will be handy for England should they again get to the semi-finals of a competition which is notoriously more difficult to win than its big brother, the World Cup. All their Group D games are in London and they would only be required to travel for their last 16 and quarter-final ties.
It is, without doubt, one of the reasons why Gareth Southgate’s squad will be regarded among the favourites for only the third major tournament held in the birthplace of the game – the others being the World Cup in 1966, which they won, and Euro 96, where they lost on penalties in the semi-finals.
But with England, getting out of the group is always something of an achievement, let alone one that is strewn with banana skins.
They open their campaign on June 13th against Croatia, their conquerors in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, before the showdown with Auld Enemy Scotland on June 18th and the conclusion against the Czech Republic four days later. Southgate will not need reminding you cannot under-estimate the Croatians or the Czechs; as for the Scots, what they may lack in technical ability they will make up in heart and work rate, and the England manager will be grateful for a repeat of the win against the Tartan Terrors in the group stages of Euro 96.
If they win the group, England face the runners-up from Group F – that’s either Germany, France, defending champions Portugal or Hungary. Finish runners-up and its either Spain, Poland, Sweden or Slovakia. Who said there were easy games in international knockout football?
So, will suburban England once again be awash in a sea of St George’s flags and will we all be wearing Gareth Southgate waistcoats come July 11th?
Certainly, the fact they will not have to stray too far from home is a massive plus, but England were extremely underwhelming in their recent World Cup qualifiers. And the fear is the deeper they progress into the tournament, the more leg-weary they will become as the intensity of a punishing domestic season takes its toll.
So, it may be worth siding with a squad which does not rely on England-based players.
North Macedonia it is then!
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