The opposition might have been sub standard for the most part, but 10 wins from 10 European Championship qualifiers is no mean feat for an exciting England squad whose manager must not be frightened to endorse youth next summer.
Although Roy Hodgson is right to temper his side’s achievements given the lack of meaningful tests encountered en route to France, such a consistent showing breeds hope that the inflated expectations of a football-mad nation might not be dashed in quite such brutal fashion as usual in 2016.
At the centre of this renewed optimism, is the genuine changing of the guard that was hailed to have happened ahead of the World Cup, but in truth was still in transition, as the presence of England’s longest-running selection conundrum in the final 23-man squad revealed.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will not be crossing the channel next summer, as players at least, leaving skipper Wayne Rooney as the only genuine relic of the underachieving Three Lions vintage named the golden generation.
Although the final pair of games in Group E served an experimental purpose for Hodgson in the main, the former Fulham manager must have been delighted with the emergence of some of his youngest stars.
If Harry Kane had been given the goal his predatory instincts deserved against Lithuania, then the average age of England’s three scorers would have been 21.
The other two on the scoresheet, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley, both did their chances of consideration for starting berths no harm at all.
In particular, the clamour to include Barkley for the high-profile friendlies which follow between now and next summer’s festivities, is growing, with many believing Everton’s latest precocious talent could have a big impact in France.
While several of the fringe figures fielded in Lithuania are likely to miss the final 23-man cut, the starting XI boasting an average age of 24.72 is something to really savour from an English perspective.
This potential starting XI for the finals next summer shown below (going off birthdays as of June 1st 2016) comes in a smidgen younger still at 24.63.
Of course, much can happen in the way of injuries and form between now and next summer, but this looks a team capable of installing fear into some more established opponents.
Using youth as a foundation, not withstanding a smattering of experienced heads in goalkeeper Joe Hart, Rooney and his vice-captain Gary Cahill, this is a team free from the mental baggage of multiple tournament failings.
In hindsight, Alan Hansen probably regrets his public appraisal of Sir Alex Ferguson’s crop of talented youngsters at Manchester United – it turns out you actually can win quite a lot with ‘kids’.
The ‘Class of 92’ would go onto write their names in football folklore, and it’s that same bravery which Manchester United’s great manager showed back in the early 90s, that Hodgson must heed in France.
The last time England authentically raised the hopes of a nation at a major tournament was when a certain teenager named Rooney played without fear back in 2004.
It’s time to release the Barkleys and Kanes to do the same in 2016.
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