The last time an England football team played in a tournament in France, Michael Owen weaved through a world class Argentinian defence and cut a peach of a goal into the top corner. Two hours later and they were heading back through the Channel Tunnel with David Beckham acting as the perennial scapegoat figure. Eighteen years on, and the Three Lions are back in France, but this time it’s a little different.
Back in 1998, there was huge expectation on the shoulders of a team who reached the semi-finals of the Euros only two years earlier. This time around, Roy Hodgson has done what Glenn Hoddle couldn’t do, and that’s manage expectations. Even after a qualified nightmare at the World Cup in Brazil, the English public never expected anything more. The squad was young, big name stalwarts had faded and there wasn’t talk of actually winning the tournament. So, what’s different this time?
Three attributes to this England squad stand out: youth, hunger and development. Recent inclusions to the squad have lifted a team that didn’t have any real definition to it, while a friendly victory over Germany in March gave us an idea of what this new generation are capable of.
After going 2-0 down in Berlin, a young bunch of England debutants did what they had done all season: enjoyed their football. Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Rose provided much needed width down the flanks, Dele Alli snatched balls in front of both boxes, while Eric Dier excelled as a defensive midfielder – a position in which England have struggled for years. Harry Kane looked like a world beater and Jamie Vardy made the kind of attacking runs every midfielder dreams of.
This year’s Premier League has blooded English talent like no other season. Tottenham have provided England with Kane, Alli, Rose, Dier and Kyle Walker, while champions Leicester have thrown Vardy and Danny Drinkwater into the mix. These are all players with the bit between their teeth and all have the desire to win football matches.
England’s chances of winning the Euros in France rest on getting the best out of these in-form players. One thing is for certain: if England’s attack take their chances they are capable of beating any team in the world. But even if they don’t, they aren’t expected to. Something to look forward to, wouldn’t you say?