England have qualified for a major tournament finals after 55 years and it has never been closer to coming home. The embarrassment of the 2016 Euro’s seems like a distant memory. Just like their final opponents, the three lions benefitted from the appointment of a new manager. After the resignation of Roy Hodgson in 2016, Sam Allardyce was appointed as the new manager a month later. After just one game and sixty seven days in charge, Allardyce was forced to resign by “Mutual consent” due to a report by The Telegraph which suggested that he was part of a £400,000 negotiation with a foreign firm. At that point former England defender and Under 21 manager, Gareth Southgate was appointed as the caretaker manager for 4 games and was subsequently appointed on a permanent basis after those games. Since then Southgate has managed to rebuild this England squad and taken them to levels that seemed impossible at the time. Southgate has completely turned around the England squad and filled it with youngsters. The average age of the England squad is just 25, and are the second youngest team in the Euros only behind Turkey(24).
Out of their Starting XI against Iceland in 2016 only 3 players(Sterling, Kane and Walker) still remain in the squad. The overhaul of youngsters from the Premier league has worked out well for the teams with the likes of Saka, Rice, Mount and Foden playing key roles in their run. Jordan Pickford in goal has been excellent throughout the Euros barring the game against Denmark where he conceded his first goal of the tournament but he seemed a little shaky throughout the night with terrible distribution. The most reliable part of the team has been their defence, Harry Maguire and John stones have been rock solid with Maguire also being an aerial threat in the box from set pieces. Both full-backs have been very complimentary to each other as Luke shaw has been really important while going forward and Kyle Walker providing the much needed pace to stop counter attacks. England have also been using a double pivot with Declan rice and Kalvin Phillips controlling and dominating the midfield. Phillips’s distribution is also noteworthy as he’s been feeding incisive passes through to the forwards.
Raheem Sterling seems rejuvenated in this England squad as he’s been their main attacking threat and seems unstoppable. Harry Kane had a rough start to the tournament, not scoring any goals in the group stages but has picked up his form in the most crucial stages as he’s now one goal behind Ronaldo and Schick in the race for the Golden Boot. Saka and Sancho both have been phenomenal on the right but the 19 year old Arsenal protégé has been Southgate’s preferred choice as he provides balance with both offensive and defensive contributions. Mount also makes the cut ahead of Foden and Grealish in the number 10 role. Grealish and Henderson have been the most relied upon substitutes. Henderson relieves the defensive midfielders of their duty whereas Grealish adds creativity and width to their attack.
England managed to live up to their expectations in the group stages as they topped their group with 2 wins and one draw. The draw against Scotland can only be called a blip as that’s the only game in which England didn’t score in under 90 minutes. From the very first game against Croatia, England’s defence asserted their dominance and carried it throughout the three games as they were one of the two teams (Italy being the other) who didn’t concede a single goal. Although their defence was upto the mark, questions were being raised about their forward line as they only scored two goals both coming from Raheem Sterling.
The Group of Death runners up, Germany were England’s opponents in the round of sixteen. The heartbreak of 1996 was surely in the back of the minds of the Three Lions when they took the field in front of a hopeful and nervous Wembley crowd. This was the only game in which Southgate fielded a back three with Trippier coming into the squad. Germany started on the front foot in the opening minutes but slowly faded with time as the England took control and started finding a way in behind the German defence. The game seemed to be a stalemate as neither sides were able to break the deadlock until the 75th minute when the boy from Brent, Raheem Sterling stepped up to the occasion and managed to finish from a through ball by Luke Shaw. Muller had a very easy chance to level the game a few minutes later but was not able to capitalise on Sterlings mistake and hit the ball wide of the mark. Harry Kane opened his account for the tournament and put the game to bed in the 86th minute with a header after a perfect cross by substitute, Jack Grealish.
After the win against Germany, England managed to carve a comparatively easy route to the finals as they faced Ukraine in Rome in the quarter finals stage. England dominated this game from the start to finish and managed to breeze past them 4-0. Harry Kane bagged a brace and the man of the match award as he seems to have rediscovered his form. The three lions then faced a very spirited Danish side in the semi-finals. After the unfortunate incident in the first game, it was a miracle how the Danes managed to claw their way back into this tournament. They too started off on an upbeat note and thanks to a sumptuous free kick by 21 year old Damsgaard on the 30 minute mark, they were the only team who scored a goal against England. That goal was a wake up call for England as they rallied and took control of the game from there on. It was not long until a great pass by Kane set Saka free and his cross resulted in Kjaer scoring an unfortunate own goal. Although they kept on attacking, the Danes seemed adamant not to concede until a controversial foul on Raheem Sterling was given as a penalty in the 104th minute of extra-time. Harry Kane had his initial penalty saved but he managed to score on the rebound and grab the win and a berth in the Finals for England.
Although England have hardly been challenged and seem to dominate every game so far, the Italians have beaten some very tough opponents enroute to the finals. The ‘Gli Azzurri’ have showed their ability to scrape through games in which they haven’t been good enough and get the job done. They’re also currently on a thirty three game unbeaten run and will be looking to pick up the coveted trophy. On the other hand England have never beaten Italy in a major tournament and will be looking to beat the odds and finally bring it home in front of their home fans at Wembley. The entire nation will be buzzing in excitement as it’s going to be a historic night for the three lions.