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Opinion

Euro 2020 preview: Are the young lions set to finally roar?

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6th June, 2021
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In August 1995, Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen uttered the infamous phrase, “you can’t win anything with kids”, after Sir Alex Ferguson’s youthful Manchester United side lost 3-1 to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.

Whether that spurred United onto trophies is another thing, but if you put your faith in kids and allow them to develop and grow; the end result normally leads to success.

With the Euros less than two weeks away, maligned England manager Gareth Southgate announced a very youthful 26 man squad for the tournament.

It is the youngest squad announced for the tournament with an average age of 24.8 years and includes the youngest selection of midfielders and forwards in the tournament.

This is a huge culture shift as just over a decade ago, then-England manager Fabio Capello picked the oldest World Cup squad in the nation’s history.

Southgate has slowly been introducing younger player into his teams since he’s been in charge. He’s never been afraid to give players opportunities and transition some on – in 2018 he initially picked 26 players; but only ten were in the 23 that went to Russia.

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There were a couple of controversial decisions to make in selecting this team though. Southgate picked an unusually high number of right backs (four in total) which is the most out of any team going to the euros.

This number was so high due to him reluctantly including Trent Alexander-Arnold after fans, rival coaches and the media hounded to have him selected in the squad despite after a sub-par club season.

James Ward-Prowse, Jesse Lingard , Ollie Watkins, Ezri Konsa and Fikayo Timori had been in great form in the Premier League and Serie A for their respective clubs, but weren’t selected in the final squad – much to the bemusement of fans.

If this England team is to go far, it will rely heavily on getting key injured players fit in time.

Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire would be the first two names on the team sheet. They are the leaders in defence, midfield and the team itself – there is just enough cover if one is missing but if both are out – it spells disaster for England.

Rival teams will look to expose England in the central midfield and central defence battles as they are the weakest areas in this team. The quality of depth just isn’t there and Southgate will be hoping his medical team can get Maguire and Henderson fit.

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The attackers on paper look to be one of the best in the Euros. This is an England team capable of scoring goals; especially with Harry Kane leading the line – the early betting favourite for the tournament’s top goal scorer.

In terms of a potential breakout star, look no further than 17-year-old Jude Bellingham, who has been lighting up the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. This also could be big tournament for his Premier League-bound teammate Jadon Sancho – who is yet to replicate his great club form on the international stage.

They should comfortably escape their group (with only Croatia likely to cause them any trouble) and go deep into the knockout stages if they can get their injured players fit and Southgate works out which system he wants to play.

England football teams have a habit of choking on the big stage – especially with the rampant expectations of the country’s success-starved fans and media.

Southgate appears to be building a team for future tournaments, however, and Euro 2020 might have come a tournament too soon.

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I would not be surprised to see these young lion cubs exit with a whimper rather than a roar.

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