England’s optimism may be misplaced

Bukayo Saka of England could help the Three Lions win Euro 2024. | EPA

Bukayo Saka of England could help the Three Lions win Euro 2024. | EPA

Published Jun 12, 2024


Smiso Msomi

The 17th edition of the European Championship is set to kick off on Friday with Europe’s finest nations stocking their armoury ahead of what is expected to be a spectacle in Germany.

Defending champions Italy defied the odds in the last tournament by beating England in the final of Euro 2021 at Wembley and stunned the hosts into silence at the final whistle. Over two years have passed and the youthful England side from that tournament has since grown into one of the most formidable national teams in the game today.


Of the players to miss penalties in that final only Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka remains in the picture, while the Manchester United duo of Marcus Rashford and Jaden Sancho have gone off the boil.

The 22-year-old Saka, nicknamed “Starboy”, has raised expectations that the Three Lions will end a 58-year-old trophy drought. The chant “it’s coming home” has already begun to dominate football audiences around the world as it did before Euro 2021 as well as the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

English supporters and pundits alike have dissected their side under manager Gareth Southgate and possess a common feeling of optimism, but is it coming home?

For several years England’s 2002 World Cup team were regarded as the best set of players to grace the white shirt. That “Golden Generation” featured the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Micheal Owen, all at the peak of their powers and careers.

However, for all their talents, they were eliminated by a Portugal side that had a young Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks and they would suffer the same fate at the tournaments that followed.

England manager Gareth Southgate. | EPA

Fast forward 18 years later, Southgate has entrusted the likes of national team captain Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Saka and rising star Jude Bellingham to be the ones to finally claim what they feel is rightfully theirs.

While Kane (44 goals, 12 assists), Foden (27 goals, 13 assists), Saka (20 goals, 14 assists) and Bellingham (23 goals, 13 assists) all possess remarkable stats at the club level, they’re yet to prove themselves as a team at international level, just like the class of 2006.

The truth is England have always strolled through qualification for major competitions but it is the big stages where they’ve failed to combine their efforts and experience, a good reason to disregard their pre-tournament form again this year.

Another factor counting against “the best England squad ever” (as former Tottenham Spurs man Jamie O’hara describes them) is the presence at the tournament of teams just as talented, such as France, Germany and Spain.

Unlike England, these nations have recent success in justifying their tags as one of the favourites. While Spain and Germany’s last major trophies can be traced back 10 to 12 years, France and captain Kylian Mbappe could bring their 2018 World Cup success to the discussion table if a question of pedigree is raised.

Le Bleu also hold the psychological high ground having dumped England out of the 2022 World Cup. The discussions will rage on until the tournament kicks off this week, however, it is hard to believe at this point that the trophy is ‘going home’.

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