Euro 2020 countdown: Group D preview

Three Lions to roar

Time for England to shine as boss Southgate wants them to step up

LONDON • England head into Euro 2020 with a new factor for manager Gareth Southgate to deal with - high expectations.

In 2018, he took the Three Lions to the World Cup in Russia with few seriously expecting the team to return home with the trophy. Helped by a favourable draw but also some solid performances, they reached the semi-finals before bowing out to Croatia and were given positive reviews by most.

This time, though, with his key players having matured and exciting young talent breaking into the side, the expectations go beyond just making a good impression.

With all of their group games to be played at Wembley and the venue also hosting the semi-finals and final, Southgate knows talk of "learning" or "progress" is not going to be enough this time, and has told his players they should not be afraid to voice their ambition of winning Euro 2020.

"We've only been to one European semi-final as a country, never mind to a final or winning," he said (though they finished third in 1968). "So we've a chance to be the first, and that is a challenge we should embrace. We have to allow everybody to dream, we want to dream ourselves.

"But we've got to make sure we won't just win because we're at home, we won't just win because we're an exciting team. We've got to get all the parts right, and that's got to be our aim."

England's overall Euro record is poor, having reached the last four only once - at Euro 1996, which they also hosted - and they suffered an embarrassing last-16 exit to Iceland at the last edition.

But the good news for Southgate is that he has the quality in his squad to live up to the hopes of a country that has not won a major tournament since the World Cup on home soil 55 years ago.

The core of the 2018 World Cup team remains and the additional experience since then should only help. The midfield was lacking in Russia but there are new, young, options there with Chelsea's Mason Mount and Manchester City's Phil Foden having since burst onto the scene so impressively.

Jack Grealish also has the flair to be a real difference maker in tight games, as evidenced by the Aston Villa playmaker winning the penalty as England beat Romania 1-0 last Sunday in their final friendly before their Group D opener against Croatia on Sunday.

While it remains to be seen if Southgate can find the right place for him in his system, he looks set to play a role.

  • England

    COACH: Gareth Southgate

    PREVIOUS EURO FINALS: 9

    BEST RESULT: Third (1968)

    EURO 2016: Last 16

KEY MAN: HARRY KANE


The captain, 27, finished the season as the Premier League's top scorer with 23 goals and the best creator with 14 assists. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

There is no doubt that the manager has plenty of talent to choose from and the likes of Borussia Dortmund pair Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton offer more than just useful cover.

The biggest question is whether Southgate can find the right formation and tactics to get the best out of a group of players who should be serious contenders to win their first Euro.

England should need no extra motivation on home soil but the former Middlesbrough boss will need to switch his approach from a nurturer and developer of young talent into a ruthless winner.

  • Croatia

    COACH: Zlatko Dalic

    PREVIOUS EURO FINALS: 5

    BEST RESULT: Q-finals (1996, 2008)

    EURO 2016: Last 16

KEY MAN: IVAN PERISIC


Perisic, 32, has scored 28 goals in 101 appearances for Croatia and also helped Inter Milan win the Serie A title with four goals and five assists. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia are likely to be the biggest threat to Southgate's men even though emulating that success will be a tall order as they are no longer the same team with several stalwarts having hung up their international boots.

Danijel Subasic, Ivan Strinic, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic made way for younger players after Russia and the Balkan nation are still a side in transition.

Despite qualifying for the Euro in relative comfort, their performances left something to be desired and they have also made a patchy start to their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, losing at Slovenia.

  • Czech Rep

    COACH: Jaroslav Silhavy

    PREVIOUS EURO FINALS: 9

    BEST RESULT: Winners (1976)

    EURO 2016: Group stage

KEY MAN: TOMAS SOUCEK


Soucek, 26, had his best season in a West Ham shirt, finishing as their joint top-scorer in the Premier League with 10 goals and helping them qualify for the Europa League. PHOTO: REUTERS

They were also beaten 1-0 by Belgium in their final friendly on Sunday, a game which again showed coach Zlatko Dalic's reliance on his tried and trusted midfield trio of captain Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic to control the middle of the park.

Like Croatia, the Czech Republic are no strangers to England in recent times, having finished runners-up in the same Euro qualifying group, and enter the tournament with Slavia Prague players, past and present, at their core.

Six players were called up from the Czech champions as well as former Slavia stars Tomas Soucek and defender Vladimir Coufal, key players in West Ham's outstanding season that saw them finish in sixth place in the English Premier League, earning a Europa League berth.

  • Scotland

    COACH: Steve Clarke

    PREVIOUS EURO FINALS: 2

    BEST RESULT: Group stage

    EURO 2016: Did not qualify

KEY MAN: LYNDON DYKES


The Australia-born striker was a late addition but his physical presence, allied to his deft touches, have given the Scots a much-needed focal point in attack. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Scotland, as the lowest ranked of the four teams in Group D, will be making their first appearance at a major tournament since 1998 and while the Tartan Army may lack creativity, they make up for it with character, a hallmark of Scottish teams.

One advantage the Scots have is their two group matches against Croatia and the Czechs will be held at their Hampden Park home and skipper Andy Robertson cannot wait after their qualification play-off tie with Serbia was staged behind closed doors.

"For me to lead my country at our first major tournament since 1998 will be so incredible, so emotional, and right up there with what I've achieved already," the Liverpool defender said.

REUTERS

KEY MATCH

ENGLAND V CROATIA

June 13, 9pm SGT (Wembley Stadium)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2021, with the headline 'Three Lions to roar'. Subscribe