“Everyone seems to know the score,
They’ve seen it all before,
They just know, they’re so sure,
That England’s gonna throw it away.”
- Three Lions (Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds, 1996)
It hasn’t always paid to be optimistic about England at major tournaments, and those tipping Three Lions heartbreak on the big stage have frequently been proved right.
However, the squad selected by Roy Hodgson for this summer’s showpiece won all 10 games in a perfect qualifying campaign and their blend of creativity, pace and flexibility can cast off the disappointments of old, and bring a first European Championship trophy back home. Here’s why a glorious summer awaits for England
Their attacking options are impressive and varied
Goalscoring has undoubtedly been England’s main issue at the past three major tournaments, with the Three Lions netting just 10 goals in 11 games.
But any fears of a goal-shy stint in France are unfounded. The Three Lions scored a whopping 31 goals in 10 qualifying games, including an incredible 13 away from home.
And the attacking threat of Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling which we saw in qualifying has now been bolstered by the pace and physicality of Jamie Vardy, and the cool finishing and mature game-reading of Marcus Rashford.
And those additions have already provided a spark in the pre-tournament friendlies, with a comprehensive defeat of hosts and Euro 2016 favourites France, and a 3-2 win away in Germany.
On their day, the Three Lions frontline can destroy any defence in Europe – and they’re 10/1 to be the top scoring side in France.
They’re a great team unit, unburdened by history
Experience has been more of a burden than a blessing for previous England sides. In 2012, the fear of making errors led to the limp, overly-cautious exit to Italy.
But this England side – only four of whom were part of the Euro 2012 squad – are a new breed, unburdened by the legacy of previous tournaments. And they’re refreshingly free from ego.
That team spirit and untroubled self-confidence has been evident time and time again in the past 12 months.
The stunning comeback win in Berlin, the explosive 3-2 victory in Slovenia and the defensive masterclass against Switzerland at Wembley all point to the fearlessness and togetherness of this new breed of England stars. But the reinvention of one of England’s old guard which has been just as crucial…
The Reinvention of Rooney
The ‘Rooney question’ has rumbled on throughout qualifying, with Three Lions fans split between those who maintain the importance of the 30-year-old to England’s future success, and the detractors who believe the national team’s all-time record goalscorer is past his best.
Despite supporters’ mixed views on the Man United man, the stats prove he’s still hugely important to the English cause. He scored in seven of his eight outings during Euro 2016 qualifying, as well as chipping in with two assists.
And with the new midfield berth clearly suiting Rooney for both club and country, his outstanding range of passing and ferocious long-range finishing will make him a huge asset this summer. He isn’t the fiery young kid of Euro 2004, but he looks likely to be even more useful.
Class and creativity throughout midfield
However, Rooney is by no means England’s only consistent threat from midfield.
Man City winger Raheem Stirling produced four assists and two goals in qualifying with his hugely effective displays out wide, and he kept up that form with crucial work for England’s winning goals in the Portugal and Australia friendlies.
Meanwhile, while Ross Barkley is one of several more dynamic young midfielders who made it onto the plane for France, having netted twice and set up as many in his five qualifying appearances.
That quality and youthful pace will surely see England top Group B at 4/5, ahead of inexperienced Wales, flat-track bullies Russia and a Slovakia side with a sluggish backline. That midfield quality in a straightforward group could also mean the 9/2 for England to win all their group games is a smart selection indeed.
Hodgson is tactically astute and versatile
England’s gaffer may be renowned for his genial, soft-spoken manner, but when it comes to tactical nous, it’s his pragmatism and logic which shine through.
The 4-3-3 with wingers which Hodgson utilised in Switzerland against a similarly expansive Schweizer pati side saw England beat their hosts at their own game.
Conversely, the Three Lions utilised a more conservative 4-5-1 in Berlin as they beat Die Mannschaft 3-2, with a system that allowed Vardy and Kane to burst forward without the English backline being too exposed.
And in the 2-1 win over Turkey, the former Fulham boss set his side up with a narrower 4-3-3, as the men in white won the battle in central midfield against Fatih Terim’s men.
With an impressive tactical flexibility matched by pace, defensive stability, creativity and the confidence of youth, England look to be outstanding value at 8/1 to bring the coveted European Championship trophy back to Wembley.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.