Euro 2020 Group D: England expects as Wembley factor favours Gareth Southgate's men
On the back of the humiliating exit at the hands of Iceland in Euro 2016, there was a more muted and humble narrative around the Three Lions at the World Cup Finals in Russia two years later.
However, Southgate cannot avoid the renewed sense of anticipation and optimism among England supporters as they await the start of the Group D campaign against Croatia at Wembley on June 13.
With a potential tournament path which could see England play just one game away from their own national stadium, it is understandable that many pundits and bookmakers believe Harry Kane could be the man who steps forward to lift the European Championship trophy under the Wembley arch on July 11.
The captain, who has expressed his desire to leave Tottenham Hotspur this summer, is unquestionably the key man as far as English hopes are concerned in a group which also sees them face Scotland and Czech Republic.
Kane’s return of 34 goals in 53 appearances for his country is exceptional, but he also brings top quality link-up play and impressive leadership qualities to the party.
While Kane’s experience is crucial, Southgate continues to show faith in young talent and this could be a coming-of-age tournament at international level for Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden.
Croatia, on paper, pose the biggest threat to England topping Group D. While not the force they were when they beat Southgate’s men to reach the World Cup Final three years ago, Zlatko Dalic’s squad still command respect.
It could be an international swansong for Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who will look to bring fluency to a team in which the contribution of Inter Milan forward Ivan Perisic will also be vital.
With three teams potentially qualifying from the group, it is difficult to overstate the significance of the opening match between Czech Republic and Scotland at Hampden on June 13.
The Czechs finished runners-up to England in their qualifying group then went on to win promotion to the top flight of the Nations League, finishing two points ahead of Scotland in their group.
They have been weakened by the absence of central defender Ondrej Kudela, as he serves his 10-match ban for racial abuse of Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara, and his injured Slavia Prague team-mate Lukas Provod. But they carry a real threat up front in the shape of in-form Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick.
Scotland simply have to make the most of playing two of their group games at Hampden as they return to a major tournament finals for the first time since 1998.
Steve Clarke has instilled admirable organisation and a real resilience into a squad who exude a quiet confidence they can upset the odds over the next few weeks. Underpinned by the Premier League quality of Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay and John McGinn, historic progress beyond the group stage is not beyond their capabilities.
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