By Nathan Brown

The day is Sunday 12th July and Wembley Stadium is rocking. Floodlights frame the field below, the air is soft and calm, and England kick off the Euro 2020 final. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? But could it become a reality?

After coasting through their group, England are currently favourites to lift the trophy in July, having scored 37 goals throughout qualifying – an average of over 4.5 goals a game – while conceding just six. England’s confidence and fluidity in their build-up and play patterns have seen them become deviously dangerous opponents both with and without the ball; Raheem Sterling, Jadan Sancho, Marcus Rashford and captain Harry Kane will be, perhaps, the best front line on offer during this summer’s tournament. Gareth Southgate has sought to dampen expectation, such as the success of the low key build up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the inescapable truth of the matter is plain to see. England have developed well beyond English teams of the past, and far beyond reasoned estimation.

Jadan Sancho, centre, will play a huge part this summer for England.

Much of the leap in progress has come down to Southgate’s foresight and understanding of the pressure that comes with wearing the Three Lions badge, which has subsequently seen him seek to forge a respectful and friendly relationship with the media. He is an open book within reason; he gives his players the freedom to speak their minds, to portray their natural personality within an environment that isn’t stifled, and that promotes confidence but humility in equal measure. The England set up now appears to be a happy haven for players. St George’s Park has brought every age group together and harnessed a collective ethos which seems to have enabled players to easily progress through from the younger age groups to the first team. There is an evident pathway, and players are rewarded on performances and their suitability for the brand of football Southgate sets out for his team - that holds England in good stead.

England are one of the favourites for Euro 2020.

Yet, England must be wary and on guard. France, Germany and Belgium are all worthy contenders, not to mention Holland, Spain and Portugal too. France are well equipped with firepower, with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and co a force to be reckoned with. Likewise, Holland have shown themselves an adept and difficult opponent, especially during their victory in the Nations League semi-final over England last summer. It would be incredibly naive to rule out Germany too, a nation who invariably can be counted upon to navigate their way to the latter stages of a tournament even with their ongoing rebuild. The Three Lions have little to fear though; on their day they’ve proven they can beat the best and having overcome their penalty shootout curse at the previous World Cup, they’ve reason to be confident should they go to extra time at any point. With the Finals effectively becoming a home competition for England (all three of England’s group games are at Wembley, as are both semi-finals and the final), there is extra incentive for the Three Lions. A national tournament hasn’t taken place on English soil since Euro 96, where England fought their way to a semi-final defeat to Germany.  

Injuries to Marcus Rashofrd, left, and captain Harry Kane will be giving Gareth Southgate nightmares.

The greatest cause for concern for Southgate’s boys will be the current injuries to Kane and Rashford, both of whom are expected to return around April. Kane is both the primary goal scorer of the team and the focal point. He is more than just a target man; as an understated creator and lethal finisher at any level, his fitness and form are paramount to England’s chances of success this summer. The injury may adversely keep him fresh for the national side, as he will have avoided being caught up in the intense end of season run in for Tottenham as they chase domestic and European success. On a similar note, the form of Rashford has been one of the few bright spots to Manchester United’s campaign this season, which has returned his best tally of goals in his career to date. He has played himself firmly into a starting birth for England, but his own injury has perhaps dented the likelihood of that remaining the case come the summer. Sancho’s mesmeric form at Borussia Dortmund has him banging on the door of the first XI, something which Southgate will surely welcome.

Wembley Stadium will host all three of England's group games, plus both semi-finals and the final.

A positive selection headache is to be encouraged under his tenure, and he will have plenty of those over the coming months. The Jack Grealish/James Maddison debate continues to rage on; the Villa captain is currently in the form of his life, while Maddison is still needing to answer Southgate’s remaining questions. Similarly, the Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Harry Winks choice is still there, and the debate on whether to start Jordan Pickford or Dean Henderson in goal has surfaced in recent weeks too.

All in all, England are justifiably contenders this summer and you would be foolish to bet against them reaching the semi-finals at the very least. There is so much to be excited by with Southgate’s set up and the crop of players he has at his disposal. Pace, flair and with creativity in abundance, the Three Lions will see this as an incredible opportunity to write a new chapter in their history. We’ve not seen an England side as capable and as prepared since, perhaps, 1966.

All eyes are on Wembley for the semi-finals and the final, and Southgate will hope he holds the golden ticket to England finally securing a major international honour.