England fans have spent a lot of time waiting. England has only competed in nine European Tournaments since they first began in 1960, and the best they’d ever done was a third-place finish in Italy ‘68. Since then, poetically as it could possibly be, the last euros tournament they reached a semi-final was 1996 when now-manager Gareth Southgate missed his penalty. So, what’s changed? Why is it all going so well for a team that has arguably had better squads, but never had quite the same results?
A Historic Victory
England was simply not expected to beat Germany. It was the real test of their Euros in what many had argued was a favourable draw, and Germany gave England nowhere to hide. Nor did they try. England’s victory over Germany, a cool 2-0 was a result of caution, control, and focus. Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice proved to be stalwarts to break up the German’s rhythm, but it was the defensive line that changed the game. Southgate’s much-critiqued back 5 was the key. Harry Maguire and John Stones dominated the air, Kyle Walker’s pure pace dealt with the nippy German striker Timo Werner.
Kane finally breaking his duck couldn’t have come at a better moment, either. As demonstrated by his follow-up goal against Ukraine in the quarterfinals, the confidence boost pushed him to capture his remarkable form from the previous season. His likely continued form is part of the reason that bookies providing Euro 2020 England v Denmark betting odds are now offering 3/4 for England to win, compared to 9/2 for Denmark. Denmark isn’t a bad side, far from it, but there’s something about this England side that sets them apart from the other sides left in the finals.
It would be a huge oversight to not make a note of the style of play and behind-the-scenes quality seen this year from the squad. The matches themselves were all demonstrations of robust defending and commitment to give jobs to the letter. However, the media coverage of a squad having fun, getting on, and supporting each other has been markedly different from previous tournaments. France’s considerable chemistry issues hint at how unharmonious teams can underperform. In the past, England’s squads, although full of league-winning stars, seemed incapable of gelling, unable to look beyond their domestic rivalries.
Now, they’re younger, notably one of the youngest squads ever taken to the Euros. For example, it’s no surprise that Bukayo Saka has stood out even though he’s only nineteen. Trusting a player that young is almost unheard of since the likes of Wayne Rooney. But it’s the reason they’re getting results, Southgate isn’t shying away from the fact he likes cautious play, but he’s also willing to trust players who pay back that trust with performances. It’s the sort of approach that wins trophies.
For England to win these Euros is vindication for more than just the players. It’s a huge moment for Southgate, who has faced vitriol for playing out one too many draws and one too many lacklustre displays. It’s a vindication for English football and the Premier League, too. Long has it been the case that Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A players have dominated tournaments, somehow more confident and able to handle the occasion.
That reality no longer seems to apply. If they can make the finals, fans will likely still be proud to see it. It’s a sign of a new era, and a set of young promising talents who are willing to play together, fight together and, hopefully, win together.