‘This England team [is] turning into one of the most exciting teams around.’
Jan Aage Fjortoft
‘What's impressive about England right now is they're not just winning all these games, but winning them with serious comfort. ‘
England’s free-scoring performances in qualifying for the European Championships next summer has made – is making – people sit up and take notice. Although England, broadly speaking, have always been respected throughout world football, national team displays have often been found wanting. Put another way, few have been overly concerned about playing the Three Lions.
That’s never stopping nations wanting to come and face England at Wembley (old or new) and everybody still takes great delight in beating them; it is still considered to be a noteworthy win. Nevertheless, playing England doesn’t instil some trepidation in either a World Cup or a Euro Championship game. But is that now changing? While England’s run to the semi-finals of the last World Cup was the furthest the team had been since reaching the same stage in Italia 1990, it is also worth pointing out that Harry Kane won the tournament’s Golden Boot for being the event’s top scorer. Kane figures highly in the list of players defenders don’t want to face and with good reason. His record since Russia puts him in the top bracket of forwards world-wide.
Above: Gareth Southgate (Kirill Venediktov)
England’s run to the semi-finals of the inaugural European Nations League a year after the World Cup might have seen them lose to a resurgent Netherlands but they did at least go one better than the year before. Losing to Belgium in the World Cup’s third/fourth place play-off meant the second defeat to the Belgians for England but the tournament did see England win a penalty shoot-out (against Colombia), as did the Nations league third/fourth place play-off earlier this year, 6-5 against Switzerland - even goalkeeper Jordan Pickford took one and scored.
Harry Kane (Kirill Venediktov)
The questions however are still being asked; granted England can now win a penalty shoot-out and they can score goals. But can they do it against the top nations? For all the good work being done by Belgium and the Netherlands, and with the best will in the world, the former are not one of football’s trophy-winning countries. The latter have reached three World Cup finals and lost the lot. They have however, been European Champions; once – in 1988. That was the time of great Dutch players and the country has an enviable record of producing highly skilled exponents of the game. For all that however, the Netherlands still has just one title. Belgium has also produced some wonderful players of late and the current crop contains some of the best. But still, the country has yet to win anything. Both have beaten the recent version of England
Yet those nations that do have a winning record – and the ones who regularly beat England in tournaments - are struggling a little at the moment. Even Brazil, long held as the standard bearers (and with a World Cup winning record to match) is not at its best. Neither is Germany or Italy. Brazil has been World Champions five times, the two European Nations one behind with four titles. Remarkable as it may seem, the World Cup has been held only twenty-one times, the remaining winners being Uruguay, Argentina and France with two titles each (France of course being the current holders). That leaves just two countries to have been crowned Champions of the World; Spain and England.
Harry Maguire (Kirill Venediktov)
Despite Spain also winning the European Champions in the same era, the country still has just those two titles and neighbours Portugal also just one Euros win. But both are thought of now as top football-playing countries, and with justification. And England did beat Spain, in Spain, on their way to the Nations League semi-final. That said, Spain also won at Wembley in the very first Nations League game, despite Marcus Rashford putting England in front. That said yet again, it is also true to point out that Spain’s goalkeeper David De Gea made two stunning saves to deny Rashford and England also had a Danny Welbeck goal disallowed. So it could have gone the other way. The point is that, including the 2016 World Cup, England have capitalised on the record of their young players in winning World and European youth tournaments. The current crop of players looks to be the best England has had for some time. And the world is noticing.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Anton Zaytsev)
Do the world’s leading nations fear playing England? Not yet, but they are becoming wary of England’s ability to score goals, and that’s not limited to Harry Kane. Players like Rashford are being looked at more than twice and the way in which England have become reasonably adept at finding shots on target is meaning that the best defenders the world need to be at their best when they do face the Three Lions.
England do need to improve defensively, there are some signs of concern in that respect so the true tests are yet to come; first there are the European Championship Finals next summer, followed by the next European Nations League in September (see related article).
A strong showing by England in the summer of 2020 (and keeping in mind that all three group games will be held at Wembley as well as the semi-final and final games) would seem to present the country that gave the game to the world, along with a rapidly developing and undoubtedly talented squad (and who knows who may yet force their way into that squad) probably the best chance for some time to finally add to that single World Cup title. Remember also that it was a title that was won on home soil.
Jordan Pickford (Anton Zaytsev)
The 2020 UEFA European Football Championship, commonly referred to as UEFA Euro 2020 or simply Euro 2020, will be the 16th UEFA European Championship.
The tournament is scheduled to be held in 12 cities in 12 European countries from 12 June to 12 July 2020. Portugal are the defending champions, having won the 2016 tournament.
For the first time, the video assistant referee (VAR) system will be used at the UEFA European Championship.
Former UEFA President Michel Platini said the tournament being hosted in several nations is a "romantic" one-off event to celebrate the 60th "birthday" of the European Championship competition.
Having the largest capacity of any of the stadiums entered for the competition, Wembley Stadium in London is planned to host the semi-finals and final for the second time, having done so before at the 1996 tournament in its former incarnation.
The 12 cities and stadiums are:
Amsterdam (Netherlands) - Johan Cruyff Arena
Baku (Azerbaijan) - Olympic Stadium
Bilbao (Spain) - San Mames
Bucharest (Romania) - Arena Nationala
Budapest (Hungary) - Puskas Arena
Copenhagen (Denmark) - Parken Stadium
Dublin (Republic of Ireland) - Aviva Stadium
Glasgow (Scotland) - Hampden Park
London (England) - Wembley Stadium
Munich (Germany) - Allianz Arena
Rome (Italy) - Stadio Olimpico
Saint Petersburg (Russia) - Krestovsky Stadium
Rome's Stadio Olimpico will host the opening match on June 12, while England's national stadium Wembley will stage both semi-finals and the final.
As a result of the pan-European staging, no nation has been granted an automatic spot, with all 55 teams taking part in the qualification process.