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England Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: England Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this summer's Euros, Sports Mole previews England's chances as they bid to lift the trophy for the first time.
Sports Mole

Gareth Southgate's golden generation will endeavour to fulfil years of promise on the international stage this summer, as England's youthful starlets prepare to lock horns with the finest that the continent has to offer at Euro 2020.

Three years on from leading the Three Lions to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, Southgate is yet to win over all his critics - and most likely never will - but the prospect of international glory already has tongues wagging before the first ball is kicked.

After the shock and widespread condemnation of being knocked out of Euro 2016 by minnows Iceland, England will aim to banish the early-exit curse and live up to expectations this time around, but not since 1996 have they made it past the quarters of the European Championship.

Southgate's role in that run - and indeed exit - still lives fresh in the memory of the England faithful, and while it has been 55 years since the nation witnessed their beloved side conquer the world and get their hands on a major international trophy, there is a sense of renewed hope that this could finally be their year.

Here, Sports Mole provides an in-depth assessment of England's chances at Euro 2020.


GROUP

Wembley plays host to all three of England's fixtures in Group D, and in a repeat of the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, Southgate's side welcome Croatia to the English capital for their maiden match of Euro 2020.

The Three Lions' long-standing rivalry with neighbours Scotland will also come to a head on June 18 on what promises to be one of the most fiery and fascinating encounters between the two British nations, and they round off their group-stage campaign against the Czech Republic four days later.

Southgate's side can take nothing for granted in a group comprising the 2018 World Cup runners-up and an inspired Scotland unit, and one can only imagine what failure to make the top two would do for the country's morale.

FIXTURES

June 13: England vs. Croatia (2pm, Wembley Stadium, London)
June 18: England vs. Scotland (8pm, Wembley Stadium, London)
June 22: Czech Republic vs. England (8pm, Wembley Stadium, London)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

England qualified for Euro 2020 courtesy of a spate of goal-laden performances. None of the other four teams in qualification Group A was expected to usurp the Three Lions at the top, and England kicked off in perfect fashion with a 5-0 thrashing of the Czech Republic, during which Raheem Sterling bagged a hat-trick.

The Three Lions produced another five-star performance to thrash Montenegro three days later, with Ross Barkley netting two on the day, and that victory preceded two prolific successes over Bulgaria and Kosovo, although the latter gave England quite a scare in an eight-goal thriller which ended 5-3 to Southgate's team.

England's only minor blip came in a 2-1 defeat against the Czech Republic in October 2019, and while they responded with a 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria a few days later, the game was overshadowed by incidents of racism throughout the 90 minutes, which ultimately led to Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mikhailov resigning from his post.

A 7-0 drubbing of Montenegro would confirm England's progress to Euro 2020 on a day where Harry Kane scored three in front of a bouncing Wembley crowd, and they would round off a straightforward qualification campaign by winning 4-0 in Kosovo, during which Mason Mount scored his first goal for the national team.

Kane's 12 goals would see him finish atop the goalscoring charts in qualifying - one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Eran Zahavi - and England's goal difference of +31 could only be bettered by the two unbeaten teams in Belgium (+37) and Italy (+33).


RECENT FORM

Southgate has overseen six victories on the trot ahead of England's Euro 2020 campaign, although their 1-0 triumphs over Austria and Romania at the Riverside Stadium were far from vintage from the Three Lions.

A weakened England had to rely on a Marcus Rashford penalty to overcome the latter, while Bukayo Saka's first goal for his country helped them get over the line against Austria, but successive clean sheets would have undoubtedly pleased Southgate.

The Three Lions did not enjoy a memorable Nations League campaign, though, as defeats to Belgium and Denmark left them languishing in third place in the group before they rectified those mistakes in World Cup qualifying.

Only three wins from three would do in fixtures with San Marino, Albania and Poland in March, and England produced the goods to take maximum points from their opening games in Group I, although they were indebted to a late Harry Maguire volley against Poland.

At first glance, a six-game winning streak is cause for unbridled optimism within the England fanbase, but Southgate's crop cannot rely on 1-0 scorelines to propel them to victory against the finest that the continent has to offer.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion), Jordan Pickford (Everton)

Defenders: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ben White (Brighton & Hove Albion)

Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham United)

Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)


STAR PLAYER - HARRY KANE

Captain, goalscorer, creator, Harry Kane MBE will lead the England line and the England team during this summer's tournament, but the current talk surrounding Tottenham Hotspur's talisman is certainly not focused on his upcoming international exploits.

The striker turns 28 in under two months' time and is yet to collect a major trophy despite his consistent goalscoring prowess in North London, but the individual accolades keep piling up for a player whose 23 strikes saw him win the Golden Boot for the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Amid intense speculation surrounding a move to Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid or Barcelona, Kane is said to be fully focused on the task at hand with the Three Lions, and Gareth Southgate does not expect the striker to switch clubs mid-tournament.

Kane has quickly risen to sixth on the list of England's all-time top goalscorers with 34 strikes in 54 appearances, and incredibly, the 27-year-old scored in every single one of England's eight matches during qualifying for Euro 2020.

The Spurs talisman also netted against Albania and Poland earlier this year in World Cup 2022 qualification and will endeavour to make the net ripple on every step of the way towards the dream of European glory.


MANAGER - GARETH SOUTHGATE

Waistcoat wonder Gareth Southgate is gearing up for his first European Championship in the England hotseat, but the former Middlesbrough boss certainly knows a thing or two about the tournament from his playing days.

The ex-England international played a prominent role en route to the semi-finals of Euro 1996, where the Three Lions found themselves up against Germany in a battle of nerves from 12 yards, but Southgate's missed spot kick ultimately proved to be the one which eliminated England from the tournament.

The 50-year-old is keen to banish talk of that infamous campaign from 25 years ago, and he prepares for the Euros three years after leading England to a fourth-placed finish at the 2018 World Cup, becoming the first Three Lions coach since the late Sir Bobby Robson in 1990 to reach the semi-finals.

A failed 2020-21 Nations League campaign means that Southgate still has his critics, and there will never be an occasion where his squad announcement will not cause furore from some sections of the England fanbase, so the pressure is on him to get the best out of this golden generation on home soil.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Third place (1968)

During the earliest days of the European Championship where only four teams competed in the finals tournament, England made their debut at Italy 1968, during which Yugoslavia ended their dreams of glory before Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst netted in a 2-0 third-placed playoff win against the Soviet Union.

Three failed qualification periods and three group-stage finishes would follow for England until they welcomed the continent's best to the British Isles in 1996, which culminated in one of the most iconic yet bittersweet tournaments in the nation's history.

After proving their prowess from the penalty spot against Spain in the quarter-finals, a young Alan Shearer would take all of three minutes to head home the opener against Germany in the final four, but the Three Lions' joy would last just 13 minutes as Stefan Kuntz tapped home the equaliser, and there were no more goals to be had over the course of 120 minutes.

Ten perfect penalties would soon follow, but when current manager Southgate stepped up to the spot, his effort was saved by Andreas Kopke before Andreas Muller lashed home past David Seaman and his fancy dress-style goalkeeping getup.

The Three Lions have since been unable to match the feat of Terry Venables's side - losing on penalties twice more to Portugal in 2004 and Italy in 2012 - while their humiliating 2016 exit to Iceland surely still lingers in the players' minds as they attempt to etch their names into the history books.


PREDICTION

Southgate's crop are by no means guaranteed a first-placed finish in Group D - with Croatia hoping to make lightning strike twice and Scotland hoping to fulfil the wishes of the Tartan Army - but England's young guns ought to help them finish atop the pile.

However, such a ranking would see England face the runners-up from the group of death - with Portugal the most likely candidates to fill that position - and in a repeat of Euro 2004, we cannot see the Three Lions making it past the reigning champions as another summer of promise ends in heartache.

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