England expects. England always expects.
Except, maybe not this summer.
[ LIVE: Follow EURO 2016 ]
After a 50-year drought for a trophy and 20 long years since they last reached a semifinal of a major competition, the Three Lions faithful aren’t holding their breath this summer.
[ MORE: EURO 2016 essentials ]
Maybe, just maybe, that lack of expectation could help England out. After all, they do possess the youngest squad at the tournament and many of those youngsters already have appearances under their belt from the 2014 World Cup where they bowed out (somewhat against the run of play) at the group stage.
Speaking to the media ahead of their Group B opener against Russia in Marseille on Saturday, captain Wayne Rooney believes EURO 2016 could be the making of England.
“We are ready as a group of players as much as we can be,” Rooney said. “This tournament could be a big moment for England and this group of players.”
Rooney, 30, was asked about his own recent form and his transition from a forward to playing in central midfield. He defended his own form and spoke fondly about playing in midfield and although manager Roy Hodgson didn’t reveal his team, he did suggest he has some very tough decisions to make. He does.
In attack England possesses plenty of firepower with Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane both expected to start with Rooney in a deeper role, plus the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford waiting in the wings. Then there’s Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana out wide, plus injuries to Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain prove just how strong they are in those attacking positions.
Heading into this tournament there are plenty of question marks around England’s defense with the central defensive duo of Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling scrutinized heavily but in midfield they have Dele Alli as the bright spark, Jack Wilshere to potential play a big role and, as we mentioned, up front they seem set. Many expect them to breeze through Group B with Russia, Slovakia and Wales their opponents. As England’s long-suffering fans know, life is never that easy.
Yet, there’s a lingering notion that this summer could be genuinely successful for England. In the past three Euros they’ve flattered to deceive. Going out to Portugal on PKs in the quarterfinals in 2004, then failing to qualify for 2008 and losing on PKs in the quarterfinals (again) to Italy in 2012.
In the last four years Hodgson has rebuilt the side and they’ve breezed through qualifying to this tournament. Now, it’s time for this young England squad to come of age. With Rooney as their leader and showing no fear, maybe, just maybe, the expectation levels should be a little higher than they currently are.
England isn’t quite a dark horse, but they are certainly a team to look out for if they get up and running early against Russia. A good outing this summer will set up this young English squad for a fruitful future.