England named favourites for Euro 2024

Sport

England have been named as the favourites for Euro 2024, and looking at the squad, it’s easy to see why. Having lost in the final three years ago, when the last tournament was delayed by the Covid pandemic, it now feels like the time to expect success from one of the best young groups of players seen for many years.

The likes of Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka, who were all on the periphery in 2021, are mainstays in the team; added to the likes of Declan Rice and Harry Kane, they help make up a squad with more than enough quality to succeed. Manager Gareth Southgate has been criticised for his tactics and squad selections, but he is presiding over an incredible group of players. Whatever happens, it will likely be Southgate’s final chapter as coach. He’ll either depart having ended England’s 58-year trophy drought and with nothing to prove, or step away because two tournament cycles will have passed with nothing tangible to show.

Expectation and hyperbole around the England team reach fever pitch before every international tournament. But this time, it is difficult to make an argument against that being justified. World champions France, led by the profusely talented Kylian Mbappé, will be an obvious threat. Germany, the hosts, having gone through some very difficult times recently, looked like a force to be reckoned with, while the talent pools for Spain and Portugal speak for themselves. Squad depth, though, could prove the most important thing.

The spring international break is always difficult to learn from. Players have the end of the club season in mind, so playing meaningless friendlies can be seen as somewhat of a distraction. But for Southgate, it was an opportunity to see which of his fringe players are ready to contribute.

Margins and momentum at certain points in games will be decisive, particular in elite meetings as the tournament progresses. So, for all the quality of Mbappé, Bellingham and Kane, substitutes could hold the key. In the two friendlies against Brazil and Belgium, a lot of the players who are not certainties for a place on the plane got the opportunity to impress.

With Saka and Kane nursing injuries and not risked, the likes of Ollie Watkins, Ivan Toney and Anthony Gordon played big parts. There were lessons for Southgate to learn; for example, Watkins and Gordon started the defeat against Brazil with varying degrees of success. England with passive, slow and devoid of ideas, with the Aston Villa forward struggling to show that he can be a viable understudy to Kane. Gordon, meanwhile, made his debut, saying it was the “best night of his life”. His desire, effervescence and spark showed he only enhanced his chances of making the squad.

The same could be said for Jarrod Bowen and Toney, who featured in the much-improved performance in the draw with Belgium. England looked more comfortable in the second game, having previously appeared to struggle without the pace and potency of Saka and Kane. Although it was Bellingham who scored the latest equaliser, it was encouraging to see the team perform without so many key players; Toney, in particular, looked the part; strong, intelligent and, perhaps crucially, able to shoulder responsibility from the penalty spot.

Others who were on trial included Brighton defender Lewis Dunk, who had a difficult time, making a mistake that directly resulted in a goal for Belgium, and Manchester United’s young midfielder Kobbie Mainoo. The 18-year-old was promoted to the squad from the under-21s to replace Jordan Henderson; so much has been said about him, particularly how he possesses composure on the ball and decision-making far beyond his years. Critics have said he is overhyped because of the club he plays for, but against Belgium, he showed he is much more deserving of selection than Henderson.

Defensively, England have always had issues. They weren’t improving upon last week, which will concern Southgate. But with a number of players coming in and impressing, they have shown they have enough quality outside of the main core to finally win silverware this summer.

Author: Mark Hayes