LONDON • Jordan Henderson believes that England are ready to fulfil the growing expectations around their vibrant young team as their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign kicks off with the Czech Republic's visit to Wembley today.
Gareth Southgate's squad are back together for the first time this year, with the Czechs their first test in Group A before a trip to Montenegro for the second qualifier on Monday.
For the first time in years, there is a sense England can emerge as one of the main contenders for international football's top prizes.
After reaching the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990, England rounded off a memorable 2018 by defeating Spain and Croatia to reach this year's inaugural Nations League semi-finals.
While that stands as impressive progress for England after decades of underachievement, Liverpool midfielder Henderson is confident the best is still to come.
With promising youngsters Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Declan Rice joining an England squad already bolstered by the rise of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli, among others, Henderson is enjoying the fresh feel to a group that plays without fear.
"It is good, those younger players have so much talent. It's good for England because I can see in a few years we are going to have big, big players," he said.
"Young players who are maybe only starting now, who are going to be more experienced and even better in a few years.
"The future is bright, really, with all the young players coming through and how well they are doing, that's really good for England."
Sancho is unlocking his potential with Borussia Dortmund after leaving Manchester City, while Hudson-Odoi is a hot property despite still awaiting his first Premier League start with Chelsea.
Two more youngsters, Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold, were also in the original squad but have dropped out injured.
Another of Henderson's Liverpool teammates, Joe Gomez, has won six England caps but is recovering from a broken leg.
The Czech Republic are, meanwhile, hoping to exploit a perceived weakness in England's defence by targeting centre-back Harry Maguire, striker Matej Vydra has said.
Vydra, who plays for Burnley, said his club had employed a similar strategy when they faced Maguire's Leicester City team in the Premier League this season and the approach paid dividends with the defender being sent off early on.
"(England's) attack is very strong. Defence, I don't say it's not strong as well, but it's not as strong as the attack," Vydra told reporters.
"For example, Maguire. We talked about him at Burnley before we played against Leicester. In some moments, it seems he doesn't know what's happening behind him, that's why he got a red card after five minutes in the match against Burnley."
With England missing City centre-back John Stones due to injury, Maguire is set to be joined by either Everton's Michael Keane or Vydra's Burnley teammate James Tarkowski in central defence.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS