The closest England have come to emulating their one and only World Cup win in 1966 was reaching the last four, 28 years ago at Italia 90. To put it into perspective, many of the players in the current England squad weren’t even born when Bobby Robson’s side went out on penalties to eventual champions West Germany.
Although they’re not shouting it, many believe England could be fielding one of their best teams in that 28-year span, and while the disconnect between the recent Three Lions squads and the fans have never seemed greater, this new generation could be in with a real shot of making inroads at the tournament.
England is coming into the tournament on something of a hot streak. During the UEFA qualifiers, they finished unbeaten amongst a group that included, Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta, and did so in rather convincing fashion (they had an eight-point margin at the finish).
Where does the newfound firepower come from? England are no longer forcing themselves to play in a system that features — or compensates for – former star man Wayne Rooney. Instead, they’ve got a young, dynamic team that’s full of running and capable of providing goals from all over the pitch.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane leads this English squad having been captain for the tournament. The player Spurs hotshot is one of the more prolific goal scorers in the entire tournament, scoring 135 goals in the Premier League play over the last four years. Heading into the tournament, Kane has netted 12 goals for Gareth Southgate’s side, and continues to be one of the most in-form strikers the English have fielded since Michael Owen almost two decades ago.
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Kane’s “tag team partner” on the English squad would have to be Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City player who’s no stranger to putting the ball in the back of the net himself. He netted 23 goals last season for the champions, and his international manager Gareth Southgate will look to be him and Kane to be the talisman for the English attack.
England is far from a two-man show, though. Players like Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford offer a massive offensive threat while the likes of Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier are as capable going forward as in their defensive duties.
The biggest question that England faces is whether this collection of talent can come together and play at their very best throughout the tournament. There’s some sense that the team is filled with a lot of potential, which seems to be playing brilliantly, but as the pressure mounts, are they capable of weathering the storm and triumphing.
England should qualify for the knockout stage, barring a major disappointment. With nations like Panama and Tunisia in their group, anything less than qualification would be deemed a greater humiliation than when they crashed out of the Euros two years ago at the hands of Iceland. Their fourth groupmate Belgium, however, will pose far more of a challenge. But, despite what their supporters are saying, it’s far from unrealistic to think England will make could make the quarter-finals. And from there, they’re going to need their best players to shine on the world’s biggest stage – and a little bit of luck – to match or better their last brush with glory almost three decades ago in Italy.