The disappointing and underachieving Golden Generation has finally gone and, despite failure in Brazil, optimism is growing among England fans that their side can end 50 years of hurt and finally claim a major trophy.
Yes, we know: we’ve been here before, but the 3-2 friendly comeback win against Germany in March, coupled with a perfect record in qualifying, is evidence of progress under Roy Hodgson, now England’s longest-serving manager since Sven Goran Eriksson. Subsequent defeat to the Netherlands tempered expectations a little, but with most of Europe’s big boys struggling for form, there’s no reason why England can’t match their semi-final finish of 1996, or go even further, in France this summer.
There’s plenty in this England squad to interest Fantasy iTeam managers, too. Harry Kane at £7.9m and with 210 EPL points last season, is an outside bet for the Golden Boot, Wayne Rooney (£7.9m) guarantees goals at international level, with five goals in six appearances at the Euros and there are a few goalscoring options in midfield, to fill the gaping holes left by Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Jack Wilshere, despite sitting out most of the season with Arsenal, is available for £5.8m, having scored twice away in Slovenia, while Tottenham star Dele Alli (£6.5m) bagged a stunner on debut against France in November and reach double figures for his club in 2015/16.
Who’s in the squad?
There are only four survivors from England’s Euro 2012 campaign in this youthful squad, with captain and record goalscorer Rooney, goalkeeper Joe Hart and Liverpool’s James Milner set to start, and Jordan Henderson, still recovering from injury, a likely substitute.
For once, an England squad boasts plenty of firepower, with Kane and Jamie Vardy, the Premier League’s two top scorers, vying for what looks like one starting berth, and Daniel Sturridge and newboy Marcus Rashford looking to make an impact from the bench.
There are also plenty of exciting options in midfield, with Man City’s £49m man Raheem Sterling looking to regain his Liverpool form out wide and Ross Barkley and Alli competing for the coveted playmaker spot. Eric Dier offers defensive solidity, sitting back when his Tottenham team-mates, wing-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, maraud forward.
The only doubt is in central defence, where Hodgson has only been able to select three central defenders. The more experienced Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill are likely to start, with Everton’s talented, but error-prone John Stones a back-up from the bench, but you’re unlikely to see many clean sheets: England have kept the opposition out just once since the victory over France at Wembley in November.
Who do they face?
Group B looks rather generous, especially in comparison to the ‘Group of Death’ Hodgson and his men faced at the 2014 World Cup.
The game against Wales in Lens on 16th June has got everyone talking, not least due to the early kick-off time of 14:00 GMT. Bosses have been encouraged to give their staff an early finish that day, with the home nations set to do battle for the first time ever at a major tournament.
Before that, England open their campaign on Saturday night, with a game against Russia. Formerly managed by Fabio Capello, the Russians recovered from the Italian’s disastrous tenure admirably under Leonid Slutsky, but injuries to key midfielders Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov hampers their chances of making an impact on the scale of Euro 2008, when they made the semi-finals.
England’s final opponents are Slovakia, an unfancied outfit who have claimed scalps over Spain and Germany in recent years. Napoli’s Marek Hamsik is their key man, although Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel and former Manchester City winger Vladimir Weiss are also notable names. The two sides play in St Etienne on 20th June, but Hodgson will be hoping that qualification is secured before then.
What’s the best bet?
England qualified for the tournament with a 100% record and, with Wales struggling for form, Russia missing key players through injury and Slovakia lacking tournament experience, 9/2 on a perfect return of nine points from Group B could be a brilliant bet.
Did you know?
At 68, Roy Hodgson is the oldest manager at this summer’s Euros. At the other end of the scale, the England’s playing squad, with an average age of 25.8 years, is the youngest at the tournament.
After a couple of years in transition, England fans can afford to be optimistic again. How many of the Three Lions’ young guns will get in your fantasy football team? Download the app http://bit.ly/Play-FiT today and get your team selected, before it’s too late!
This post was written by Fantasy iTeam