It is that time of the cycle again…
Between World Cups and European Championships, there comes a time every two years where optimism and belief begins to spread like wildfire in pubs and streets across England.
The country is littered with English flags, the vintage kits come out of the wardrobe and the media drive pumping up the nation’s chances in a major international tournament begins to take flight.
As it happens each time, there is a genuine sense of expectation and excitement that a young and talented England squad can make some inroads on the world stage and perhaps progress deep into the knockout stages in France.
At the same time, this genuine belief can be equally be a mechanism for self-torture.
How often do English fans get their hopes up only to be cruelly let down by a national team with ‘potential’?
This time is different, some may say. This time we’ve got the kids, we have Harry Kane, we have Jamie Vardy…and you may well be right.
But who is to say the other nations have not improved? France have Dimitri Payet and Paul Pogba, Belgium are littered with young stars, Germany are born winners, as are Spain.
England may have very well improved under Hodgson and might be blessed with some of the best young talent in decades, but if you were the players or Roy, do not let the bi-yearly expectation of a nation blind you from the incredible task at hand.
Hot and cold, but promising.
They won all 10 of their Euro 2016 Qualifiers and finished with an impressive 28 goal difference, miles ahead of second-placed Switzerland in Group E finishing nine points the better with 30.
This has been followed by five friendlies against serious European competition, with three wins and two losses. Friendlies in November against Spain (2-0 L) and France (2-0 W), March against Germany (3-2 W) and Netherlands (2-1 L) were followed by a 2-1 win against Turkey and (2-1 W) against the Socceroos of Australia last week.
England have made eight appearances in the European Championships, with their first back in 1968 which is also the nation’s best result in the tournament, a third-place finish.
Most recently, apart from a failure to qualify in 2008, quarter-final appearances in 2004 and 2012 have left fans wanting England to take that next step and finish in the final four, or dare we say it, reach a final.
Raw power and pace, both in midfield and attack. The middle of the park seems equipped in all facets, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Jack Wilshere and Eric Dier are candidates to cover the engine room, Dele Alli is a star and has a telepathic relationship with Kane up front, while Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana have pace and power that needs to be harnessed and use efficiently. In attack, Wayne Rooney is flexible anywhere from midfield to the last line, Kane and Vardy speak for themselves, let us not forget the potential impact of Daniel Sturrdige and Marcus Rashford could prove to be a very handy impact player.
The defence is a worry. Chris Smalling is coming off his best season at Manchester United, John Stones is a young star and Gary Cahill provides the experience and resoluteness, but depth at centre-half wears a little thin from there. Erik Dier can deputise there but is much more comfortable in midfield. The fullbacks are stocked with Ryan Bertrand, Danny Rose, Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker, but one would have to wonder what a tournament-ending injury to any of those three centre-halfs would do to England’s hopes.
Predicted finish – Semi-Finals
Potential, it is a dangerous word but England definitely have the potential and favourable side of the draw to finish at least in the final four, pending form and injuries. Whether this young talented squad has the mental capacity to grind out games, particuarly early on in the tournament, will determine just how far England can go.