Published 24/05/2016 at 10:34 GMT | Updated 10/06/2016 at 16:57 GMT
“Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming,” sung Baddiel and Skinner on Three Lions, the anthem which dominated the summer of Euro 1996. The sobering realisation for England is that 20 years have passed and there has been no end to the pain.
After a dismal campaign at the 2014 World Cup, with England failing to win a single group game under Roy Hodgson, expectations amongst national supporters crept to the lowest level in decades. But in March, a 3-2 win away at Germany happened. A young, vibrant and attack-minded England came from 2-0 down to create a real buzz around a squad which Hodgson has overhauled significantly since the World Cup. Can they build on it?
England captain Wayne Rooney is a certainty to be part of Roy Hodgson's squad for Euro 2016 if fit from a knee problem
Image credit: PA Sport
Will Wayne Rooney start? England’s captain broke the all-time goalscoring record during the qualification process and now has 51 international goals to his name – but his grasp on a first-team place has never been weaker.
Harry Kane looks certain to start after top-scoring in the Premier League and netting in the friendlies against Germany and Turkey, while Jamie Vardy had the second most goals in the English top-flight and scored in both of those games as well as the friendly against Netherlands. Rooney could play in behind one striker or two, but that’s likely to be a role reserved for Dele Alli or Raheem Sterling. Logic suggests Rooney has to start, but how do England crowbar him into the team?
Rooney or no Rooney? England’s best team surely does not include their captain but Hodgson is unlikely to bench his captain, so there will probably be some kind of fudge with Rooney playing off Kane and Vardy. Jack Wilshere has timed his return nicely and could well get the nod alongside Eric Dier.
THE MANAGER: ROY HODGSON
England manager Roy Hodgson
Image credit: Reuters
Hodgson sometimes seems to be fighting a battle for his own legacy as much as he is trying to orchestrate success for England. The former Inter, Fulham and Liverpool boss is irritated by the tag of conservatism that continues to hang around his neck and is at pains to point out the work he has done in rebuilding England. He picked Oxlade-Chamberlain for Euro 2012 and Sterling for the World Cup – and sticking with England’s emergent young stars would give him the best chance of reforming his own reputation and delivering success to his country.
AN INSPIRATIONAL STORY
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Harry Kane prior to England's game against France in 2015
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Harry Kane: The Premier League’s top scorer and the most deadly forward England possess. Kane scores great goals and in big games – if he finds his feet at his first major tournament then England could shine.
Joe Hart: One of the few players in the squad you could just about sustain an argument for being world class. Has held his position at one of the biggest clubs in the world and is always dependable for England.
Raheem Sterling: Hasn’t had the best of seasons for City but possesses the ability to crack teams apart with his pace and dribbling. Needs to work on his finishing still but a potential match-winner.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
Dele Alli in action for England
Image credit: Reuters
Dele Alli is still just 19 and behaves like any other 19-year-old, except for the fact he is an international star with England and potentially one of the revelations of the Euros. His mix of selfies and banter with his team-mates, particularly his bromance with Dier, makes him the most endearing player in the England squad.
JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE
Does Jamie Vardy start alongside Harry Kane or is he used as an impact sub? Where does Wayne Rooney fit in? Roy Hodgson’s increasing faith in a youthful Tottenham core gives England a sense of energy and purpose they have lacked for a decade or so; their pressing in the win over Germany was as focused as from any England side in recent memory.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Perfectly. England won 10 out of 10 qualifying matches, making their intentions clear with a 2-0 win away to Switzerland, their biggest rivals in the group, in their very first game. Only Romania conceded fewer than their three goals, with two, and only Poland outscored England’s 31, with 33. Consequently, their goal difference of +28 was unrivalled anywhere across the continent.
Still, this was not always settled campaign for England. The midfield in particular went through multiple changes: Jack Wilshere started at the base of a 4-4-2 diamond, Jonjo Shelvey came in later for a brief stint and now Eric Dier looks to be first choice in a holding role.