“Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming. Thirty years of hurt, Never stopped me dreaming”. After a historic victory over Germany in the Euros, England have all eyes set on a Wembley finale. Apparently, football is coming home. Could it be true?
We came close in Russia in 2018. Our first semi-final appearance since the Wembley showdown between two of International Football’s greatest foes in 1996. But the excruciating defeat to Croatia ended the dreams and added to the hurt. Not since the Euros in 1996, staged on home soil, has the nation felt so passionate that England could actually do what they hadn’t done since the 1960s. In actual fact, it isn’t just 55 years since England won a major honour, it was the last final we took part in! It has to be said, England really have been presented with the best possible chance of finally lifting a trophy. The game against Germany was more than just a huge win against a major rival, it has provided England with a mightly promising route to the final.
It is almost a certainty now, that when the England starting 11 is announced, England fans will call for the head of Gareth Southgate. His football decisions are very polarising and split the fanbase right down the middle. It is impossible to ignore the bizarre decision to have no backup central striker in the squad after leaving Dominic Calvert-Lewin at St George’s Park. It is crazy to consider Manchester United are close to paying £80+ million for Jadon Sancho and the lad can’t even make it onto the field at Wembley.
The fans are crying out for more game time for Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, Southgate though is not playing ball. We can’t sit here and make these claims about who should be playing when what Gareth is doing, is actually working. His success on the field with England is routinely ignored and passed over, simply because the football being played is slightly more cautious and defensive than we would like to see. It isn’t the prettiest football ever played, it is far from perfect…. but it’s working.
Note: We asked England fans for their Starting 11 and Score predictions before the big match – how did they get on? Click here to find out
55 years of hurt
Germany had defeated England in knock-out competitions on all four occasions, prior to this week, since the defeat at Wembley in the 1966 World Cup Final. In the 55 years since England last won a major honour, Germany (West Germany & East Germany up until 1990 when the two nations reunited) have won three World Cups (1974, 1990 & 2014). Add that to three European Championships (1972, 1980, 1996). That last Euros win is the same win that came from defeating England at Wembley in the Semi-Final on penalties. A defeat caused by a spot-kick miss from Southgate himself.
A sterling job
Southgate has avenged that loss however with yesterday’s victory. The decision to match Germany on the field almost proved successful for Hungary in the final Group F game. Fans may not have agreed, Gareth clearly felt this was the right approach to take. He was correct. While Germany would create more chances in the game, pretty much everything they attempted was counteracted by a firm and confident England. Let’s be realistic, this German squad is not at the level the four-time World Champions are used to fielding. It’s certainly not the strongest German team we’ve faced, but there is still substantial quality on that pitch. England matched it at every level – putting in our best performance of the tournament so far.
We do still have an issue with how well we can keep Harry Kane in the game. At times he looked lost and completely wasted on the pitch. This is no fault of his, we just don’t provide him with enough of the ball. This changed with the introduction of Grealish, evident from the second goal.
The two goals were strong and showed just how much quality we have. Something which completely justifies the bookies 2/1 ‘clear favourites’ price. While we swept Germany aside, they were, on paper, the only significant threat on the route to the final.
Firmly looking down Wembley Way – Football’s Coming Home
That last statement must be followed by saying that it is with no disrespect to the rest of the field, but ultimately England really should be excited for the path ahead of us. Should England defeat Ukraine in Rome on Saturday, either the Czech Republic or Denmark would sit in the way of a place in the Wembley Final. While you should never underestimate opposition in an International knock-out tournament, this is a promising proposition for England and on paper should easily defeat both sides. The Czech Republic tested England last Tuesday in the final game of the Group Stage but in truth, a 1-0 defeat was flattering.
It was more a case of just getting the job done for an England side that had already qualified for the Round of 16. A knockout game would be different, and you only have to ask France about that. Denmark, while very strong against Wales to knock the Dragons out of the tournament, shouldn’t have enough in the locker to seriously challenge England. It does though seem written in the stars for a potential repeat of 1992 and their historic Euros victory after such a dramatic and emotional opening game. It would make an incredible story and the players will be playing with so much confidence after being the only team in history to lose both of their first games but still qualify for the Round of 16.
The return of Shevchenko
All of this is irrelevant, however, if England cannot defeat Ukraine on Saturday in the Quarter Final. Andriy Shevchenko’s side won their first-ever knockout game in a major tournament last night after a dramatic last-minute goal against 10-man Sweden. Ukraine qualified from the least interesting of the Groups in third place. Behind The Netherlands and Austria due to a single victory against North Macedonia. They would generally be considered the weakest of the remaining teams and currently sit at 33/1 with the bookmakers. They did take The Netherlands right to the edge in a 3-2 defeat in Group C on the opening weekend though. Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City provides a threat from midfield. Plus the experience of West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko will be vital for this young and largely domestic side.
It’s certainly not home yet, there is still a long way to go for England in this competition with two huge potential banana skins to avoid. But the country is optimistic and with good cause. Get those welcome mats ready, football really could be coming home.