Euro 2020: Five reasons England fans should believe they can win it
England fans should head into next summer full of confidence after a fine qualifying campaign
By Matt Storey
Last Updated: 18/11/19 2:01pm
After England completed their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 4-0 victory in Kosovo on Sunday evening, we look at the reasons why the nation should believe ahead of next summer's tournament.
Europe's best attack?
England have one of the most dangerous international attacks in the world, and arguably the best in Europe. They scored a phenomenal 37 goals in eight qualifying games, more than any other side. That effort is spearheaded by Harry Kane, who scored 12 goals in eight qualifying games, which leaves him as the top-scorer in Europe despite England playing two fewer games than the majority of sides.
Kane's goal-scoring is what grabs the headlines but his link-up play is so crucial for Southgate. He brings others into play, helping to get the best out of Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, as well as creating the space that sees players like Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, potentially, James Maddison and Mason Mount get regular chances.
Alongside Kane, Sterling is the other star name in this side and after failing to net in a year for England, since his double in the 3-2 win at Spain in October 2018, he's transferred his club form to the international stage with eight goals in seven games. More on him later, though.
It is the depth to England's attack that makes it so fearsome.
Rashford was reinvigorated by the October international break and his record for England improves with every game. Between the Euro 2016 and the draw for the 2018 World Cup, he managed just two goals, in the same period since the World Cup he has scored seven goals. That includes two against Spain and one against Netherlands in the Nations League - Rashford's knack for scoring in the biggest games could prove key.
He's battling with wonderkid Sancho for a spot in Southgate's front three. It feels like we're still waiting for Sancho's breakthrough display in an England shirt, but he's played 10 times since making his debut 13 months ago and notched his first two goals in the home game with Kosovo. Those two will both be wary of the challenge Callum Hudson-Odoi will mount for a starting spot. The Chelsea youngster played twice in the March international break, before injury kept him out of action at the start of this year. His third appearance against Kosovo was a reminder of how highly Southgate rates him.
Callum Wilson has been named in all of the squads since he scored on his debut against the USA a year ago and he now faces competition from Tammy Abraham for a spot in Southgate's plans. Abraham has taken to life as Chelsea's leading man with ease, scoring 10 goals already in the Premier League this season, and his first strike for the senior England side against Montenegro will have thrilled Southgate. If Jamie Vardy decided to come out of international retirement, it really would be Europe's undisputed No 1 force.
Sterling the superstar
If England are struggling to break down a side, or need a bit of inspiration to get back into a game, they know they can turn to Sterling. The Man City star will be 25 next summer and it feels like he is at the peak of his career. Since the start of the 2017/2018 season, Sterling has netted 62 goals in 114 games for City, as well as setting up 40 for his team-mates. Most importantly for England, he's finally found that form internationally.
Going into the Nations League game in Spain in October 2018, Sterling had scored just twice for England, with the last goal coming in a qualifier with Estonia three years earlier. There had been criticism in some quarters for his displays at the World Cup and there was little doubt that he wasn't the same player when international breaks came around. Then he scored twice in the first half in a memorable victory, and since then he's gone from strength to strength. Sterling is ruthless in front of goal, scoring 10 goals in his past 10 England games, and scares defenders. When he is on the ball and running at opposition players, the crowd gets excited at the sense something will happen.
Sterling does not need a stunning tournament to confirm his ability, we see how good he is every week. But he'll be desperate to put on a show on the big stage and try to lift England's second ever major trophy just a couple of miles from where he grew up.
While it's not a home tournament in the traditional sense, the majority of England's games are at Wembley and they can really use that to their advantage. With UEFA taking the tournament across the continent to celebrate 60 years since the first Euros, 12 different cities in 12 different countries are hosting games. So England are not the only team with an advantage, but Wembley is the venue for the semi-final and final, meaning it is not just the three group games that will be played beneath the famous arch.
The official allocation for their group games is 12,000 fans, but it's safe to say that there will be far more England fans in attendance. For the semi-final, it's 10,500 and the final 11,000. England get phenomenal backing wherever they go, but this would be on the scale not seen since Euro 1996.
As we know, England's record when hosting tournaments is pretty good - Terry Venables' side reached the semis back in 1996, while Bobby Moore famously lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy when they hosted the World Cup in 1966. Their record at Wembley in recent years is impressive too. They have lost just two games there in the past six years, to Spain in 2018 and Netherlands in 2016.
It's not just the ground though, it's the fact England's routine before and after those games can be the same as a normal international break. They can train at St George's Park, stay in the same hotels and there is likely to be a chance for players to go home and see their families between the group stage and last-16 games.
England overcame some significant mental hurdles in the 2018 World Cup, before showing even more steel and mettle in the Nations League group stages. The core of this England squad have experienced the ups and downs of international football and know what to expect from tournament play.
In Russia they dug deep to beat Tunisia, comfortably overcame a Panama side they were expected to beat - which often didn't happen in previous tournaments - beat Colombia on penalties and were cool, calm and collected in a quarter-final with Sweden. They produced a scintillating half of football to go 3-0 up at half-time in Spain, eventually winning 3-2, and came from behind to beat Croatia at Wembley.
Yes, the semi-final defeats to Croatia and Netherlands were disappointing, but in getting there this England side have learned so much and proven they can cope with the pitfalls of international football - the scrutiny, criticism, mundane periods at tournaments and, of course, penalties. They just need to have learned from those two high-profile defeats. Identify where they went wrong, what they might do better and put that into practice if they reach that stage again.
While it is a young squad, they have players competing on the biggest stages with their clubs. The players at Manchester City winning titles, the group at Liverpool competing in back-to-back Champions League finals, where they faced Tottenham earlier this year. There is the young cohort at Chelsea thrown in at the deep end and proving their worth, Leicester players involved in one of the Premier League's best teams and even a young star plying his trade abroad, in Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund. All of this should help Southgate's men.
We always believe
But England always choke at the final hurdle. But they can't defend. But there isn't enough creativity in the middle of the park. But cracks are showing in the squad. But they won't deal with the pressure. But they'll all be tired from the Premier League season. But they're overrated. But it's England.
This is England, which means we always believe. It doesn't matter what the previous two years have entailed, how tough the group might be or that we might have to play Germany in a knockout game. In a tournament year, England as a country believes in their football side.
The bunting will go up, BBQs will be organised, afternoons off work taken and wallcharts filled in avidly throughout. That Wembley hosts so many games will only add to the fervour from Crawley to Carlisle, from Shrewsbury to Scunthorpe.
Where would the fun be if we didn't think it was coming home?