Before the March international friendlies, I read an ESPN FC article about England. Wayne Rooney was out injured, but the article argued that even when Rooney is fit, the logical team for manager Roy Hodgson to put out this summer at Euro 2016 in France is one with Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, the top scorers in this year’s Premier League campaign, up front. The article continued to say that, knowing England, Wayne Rooney would still start at striker. 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of England’s lone World Cup or European Championship title. Bobby Moore captained his side to a World Cup victory on home soil in a tournament Pele missed through injury, leading the team past Eusebio’s Portugal in the semifinals and to a 4-2 win over West Germany, in a game that featured a Geoff Hurst hat trick, including this controversial second that gave England a 3-2 advantage in extra time. In World Cups since, England has faced the greatest Brazilian side ever seen in 1970 and a legendary Diego Maradona performance in 1986 with a little help from above. 1990 was marked by an extra time quarterfinal win against Cameroon before losing the semifinal to West Germany in a penalty shootout (more on that later). Stuart “Psycho” Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their spot kicks as West Germany went on to beat Argentina in the final. England failing to meet expectations had never been an issue until 1994 saw the Three Lions stay at home instead of joining the football festival in the United States. Their performances in the years following this failure, especially on the world’s biggest stage, are what created their reputation as perennial underachievers.
France 1998 saw England crash out of the tournament in the round of 16 at the hands of Argentina. Michael Owen’s beauty wasn’t enough when, with the score at 2-2 in the second half, David Beckham’s heel flick on current Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone sent England down to ten men. They would go on to lose in penalties. Four years later, with Beckham as captain, England lost a 1-0 lead over eventual champion Brazil. The winner came from poor David Seaman footwork on a Ronaldinho free kick, seeing England out at the quarterfinal stage. 2006 saw Wayne Rooney sent off in the quarters against Portugal, another match England lost on penalties. Robert Green’s howler in the opener against the USA sums up England’s 2010 campaign. The Three Lions finished second in their group and bowed out with a Round of 16 loss after a 4-1 thumping from eventual third-place finishers Germany, although not without its own bit of controversy. In Brazil, England claimed one point out of nine, finishing bottom of Group D after losses to Italy and Uruguay before drawing a meaningless game for both teams against Costa Rica. While England’s European Championships have not been characterized by famous collapses like their World Cup campaigns, England has never won one. They were eliminated on penalties, as has become a pattern for them, in 1996, 2004, and 2012 against Germany, Portugal, and Italy respectively. They failed to progress beyond the group stages in 2000 and even failed to qualify in 2008.
Even with such a poor history, Roy Hodgson’s side will feel optimistic about their chances this summer. England were the only side to have a perfect record over the qualifying round, amassing thirty points out of possible thirty. The Premier League is flourishing under new, mostly young domestic talent, with four Englishmen: Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Danny Rose, in the PFA team of the year and others, such as Tottenham’s Kyle Walker and Eric Dier, having equally impressive seasons. A come-from-behind 3-2 victory over world champions Germany will boost the young squad’s morale, although the team still needs to find consistency after losing three days later to a Dutch side that failed to qualify for the tournament this summer. Beyond just the new guard, players such as Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck give England additional pace and international experience. Ross Barkley, although not having his best season, and Adam Lallana add guile and creativity in the midfield, while Manchester United’s Chris Smalling and Chelsea’s Gary Cahill look to be the likely center back pairing in France. Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart will be a key leader on the field, and although his performances this season may prevent him from starting, Wayne Rooney is still the off the field captain and leader of this team. Should the team need his experience and composure, Rooney is a dependable man to call upon. England is a potential dark horse at this tournament, and while not quite the type of favorites that Germany, Belgium, and France are, Hodgson’s side could very well give teams a run for their money. England is primed for their best performance in a major tournament since 2006, and with the right bracket, maybe even 1990. Then again, England have always had the talent to make a deep run. “Can they?” is never a dispute. The question now is, “Will they?”
On June 11, when England meets Russia in Marseille, our question will be answered. Stay tuned.