PREVIEW: EURO2024 is England’s chance to write over past heartbreak

Under the leadership of Gareth Southgate, England will make their fourth consecutive appearance at the European Championships this summer and continue their quest to end what is now more than 50 years of hurt. The Three Lions will begin their tournament on June 16, where they will face up against Serbia at Arena AufSchalke – the home of Bundesliga side, FC Schalke 04.

With just under a week until EURO2024 gets underway, here is everything that you need to know about England.

This will be manager Gareth Southgate’s fourth major tournament in charge of England – adding to his three as a player to make seven in total – where he is hoping England can go one step further this campaign, having last reached the final on home soil at Wembley Stadium back in 2020, falling to Italy on the most hated word in English football – penalties.

While he played every game in England’s run to the semi-final in EURO ’96, he is most infamously known for missing the penalty that sent opponents Germany – this year’s host nation – to the Final where they would go on to clinch their third European title in their history.

However, since taking over the role as England boss in 2016, he has led England to the closest they have come to their first major honour since the 1966 World Cup, reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, the Final in EURO2020, and the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

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With his 61.3% win percentage, he has the second-most success managing England behind Fabio Capello, who won 66.7% of his games with the side, though was only in charge for 42 games to Southgate’s 95 and counting.

England qualified for the EURO2024 after coming out of Group C as comfortable winners, despite being pitted against their EURO2020 opponents Italy in the group. Ukraine, Malta, and North Macedonia completed Group C.

England’s qualifying campaign got underway with a 2-1 win over Italy, with Declan Rice scoring the first goal of their march to EURO2024, before Harry Kane’s penalty eclipsed Wayne Rooney’s England scoring record.

Kane would be on the score sheet again in their second group game against Ukraine, in which they notched a 2-0 win, with Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka netting a screamer for England’s second goal of the game just three minutes after Kane.

Routine wins then followed against both Malta and North Macedonia, in which England outscored their two opponents by a 11-0 scoreline, including a 7-0 pummelling against the latter, which saw Kane bag a brace, and Saka net his first England hattrick.

England would suffer their first drop of points in the away fixture against Ukraine in a scoreline that ended 1-1 – but that would not deter them from bouncing back and defeating Italy once again, this time more comfortably at 3-1, and all but secured their place at EURO2024.

While another 2-0 win followed against point-less Malta in their penultimate game, England were stunned by North Macedonia in their final match of the qualifying campaign, in which Jani Atanasov’s own goal cancelled out Enis Bardhi’s first half goal scored on the rebound of his own penalty miss and forced a 1-1 draw.

England’s two pre-EURO friendlies were supposed to get the fans hyped up about what could be another magical summer, but if anything, the fixtures put the sounds of ‘It’s Coming Home’ quietly put on pause, at least for the moment.

Despite a 3-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in which Cole Palmer (more on him later) tallied his first England goal on his first start for the Three Lions, the scoreline does not justify how poor England were.

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It was anything but an easy ride, and in the early phases of the game, Southgate’s side struggled to find any form of rhythm. Palmer, and Eberechi Eze – whose performance may have been the final piece cementing his place in the squad – stood out as the two key bright-sparks of the game until the deadlock was broken on the hour mark after Palmer was brought down in the penalty area.

After the first goal went in, England finally held a tight grip on the game, with Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold scoring a stunning volley from a tight angle, before Harry Kane found the net late on after Bowen’s strike on goal was blocked by his own teammate Ezri Konsa before finding its way back out to the skipper to seal the victory.

However, in their final send-off game at Wembley Stadium, England were on the losing end of a 1-0 defeat to Iceland – who aren’t even in this year’s tournament – with Jon Thorsteinsson’s goal past Aaron Ramsdale bringing back vivid and traumatic memories of EURO2016, where they ended England’s hopes of victory by eliminating them in the round-of-16.

Has this concerned fans going into the tournament? Perhaps, especially with defensive mainstay John Stones forced off with a knock. But, England didn’t field their strongest XI, with key powerhouses such as Jude Bellingham missing from the squad. Nonetheless, they lost their final match before a tournament for the first time since their defeat to West Germany in 1968.

Having been drawn in Group C, England are hopeful that they can mount a strong campaign in the group stages that will set them up well for the knockout rounds – should they progress.

Opening their campaign in Schalke on June 16th, Southgate’s men will face off against Serbia who are hoping for a miracle in the form of progressing past the group stage, having failed to top their qualifying group that featured Montenegro, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and group-winners Hungary, despite it being arguably one of the weakest groups at that stage.

Four days later, the Three Lions will head to Frankfurt, where they will face their toughest opponents Denmark, in what will be a re-match of the EURO2020 semi-final. The Danish Dynamite finished top in their respective EURO2024 qualifying group, albeit narrowly doing so on goal difference, edging out other Group C contenders Slovenia. In their two pre-EURO friendlies, they went 2-for-2, handing both Sweden and Norway losses.

In their third and final group clash, England must take on Slovenia where the two will meet in Cologne on June 25th. The Dragons didn’t have the best EURO send-off, narrowly defeating Armenia 2-1, before splitting a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria. However, in their friendly back in March, they did seal a 2-0 win over Portugal, who fielded a strong side that included Cristiano Ronaldo, João Félix and Rúben Neves.

BBC will broadcast England’s group stage fixtures against Serbia and Denmark, while their clash with Slovenia will be on ITV. We will also be providing detailed coverage of the Three Lions right here at FromTheSpot.

The majority of this England side play domestically in the Premier League, with only Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham the only two who play overseas, for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid respectively.

Crystal Palace are the most represented Premier League team this time around – who’d have thought that at the start of the season? The Eagles are fielding four players in Dean Henderson, Marc Guéhi, Eberechi Eze and new kid on the block, Adam Wharton, who spent the first part of the season playing for Blackburn Rovers in the championship before a stellar six-month stint in the Premier League, drawing the attention of Southgate and his staff.

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Manchester City and Arsenal each have three representatives, while Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Newcastle each have two.

Southgate may have selection headache at both ends of the pitch but for different reasons. With Luke Shaw still not fully fit to suit up – though he is expected to be ready for potentially the second group game – Lewis Dunk also did not feature in England’s EURO send-off match as he was also thought to be carrying a knock. Then, during the match against Iceland, Stones was forced off early with a slight niggle (though Southgate later confirmed it was a precautionary move).

On the other hand, they are not short of attacking options. Who Southgate chooses to start up front alongside expected pillar Kane is still up in the air. If he made his squad selection based on recent form, then following that same philosophy, a call-up into the starting XI for a player like Palmer or Eze could be on the cards, but Anthony Gordon showed he hadn’t missed a beat after his ankle injury in the penultimate game of the Premier League season.

Where does Foden go? Out wide or at the 10? Could he slot alongside Bellingham in the midfield? Does he opt to play Alexander-Arnold in the back line, or does he move him to a more advanced role in the midfield where he can showcase his elite-level passing more freely?

These are all questions Southgate must contend with, and due to almost doing a 180-degree flip on his previous tournament philosophy, we are no closer to knowing the answer than when the line-up is announced an hour before their game against Serbia kicks off. We’d expect Southgate to lean towards this starting eleven: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Guéhi, Trippier; Rice, Bellingham, Alexander-Arnold; Foden, Saka, Kane

One key player to look out for is Cole Palmer. After making the switch from Manchester City to Chelsea last summer, he singlehandedly helped Chelsea finish the season in sixth place, having spent much of the season in the second half of the table, notching 22 goals and 11 assists in 34 appearances.

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At one point, it wasn’t certain whether he’d make Southgate’s final 26-man squad for EURO 2024, having made only four appearances for his country, two of which came in the pre-EURO friendlies.

Having ripped it up for Chelsea all season long, it will be interesting to see if he can cope with all the pressure that comes along with reaching a major tournament. How many minutes he will see on the field, though, still remains to be seen. But, he certainly has the ability to be a game-changer for England, and he could be a wildcard for Southgate as they look to go deep into the tournament once more, and this time, come out on the winning side.

Don’t forget, FromTheSpot will keep you up-to-date on all of the latest EURO2024 action as it happens via our website and our X account.

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