England Running on Borrowed Time at the European Championship
England entered the 2020 European Championship as one of the top favorites in the eyes of oddsmakers and fans alike but has been a disappointment so far.
Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling has scored both of his country’s goals in the tournament despite fleeting form domestically. Captain and “golden boy” Harry Kane was thought to be the Golden Boot winner at the tournament but is yet to get off the mark.
Harry Maguire has been restored to the side in central defense after dealing with an ankle injury, and he has played well for a back-line that has not allowed a goal so far.
Manager Gareth Southgate rolled the dice in the third matchday by playing Sterling through the middle and introducing Jack Grealish and Bukayao Saka on the flanks, which gave the English extra creativity and relentlessness moving forward. Even still, only putting one goal past a vulnerable Czech side has to be cause for concern.
Comparisons to 2018
When last seen on the international stage, England was knocked out in the Semifinal of the 2018 World Cup by Croatia, 2-1. Kieran Trippier had opened the scoring five minutes in, but a 68th-minute equalizer from Ivan Perisic and a 109th-minute winner from Mario Mandzukic got the Croats into the final. England also lost the third-place game against Belgium 2-0, finishing the competition in fourth place.
This iteration of England’s squad could be considered better than the former due to the progression of young players Mason Mount and Phil Foden, although an injury to midfielder Jordan Henderson hurts. Even still, the English should be even better than they were in 2018, yet they look lifeless.
Harry Kane was as productive a player as almost anyone in the world this season, leading the Premier League in goals (23) and assists (14). He may have won the Golden Boot at the last World Cup but has zero goal contributions in this competition so far. He has looked isolated and lazy at times, lumbering around and failing to drop in to support the attackers behind him.
Given their inability to consistently progress forward, it is a wonder that Marcus Rashford has not gotten a start at left-wing. He is the quickest attacker on the team and makes his living off of blowing past defenders with his speed and skill, yet has not been able to play a full 90 minutes.
As much as they have underperformed for their level of talent, England has taken seven points from group play and is into the knockout stage. They only gathered six points in the 2018 World Cup’s group stage but had scored eight goals in the process.
At this point, England looks like they will be the first major European power in the tournament to fall other than potentially Spain; France is supremely talented, the Germans have put together a couple of decent performances, Italy has the best goal difference in the competition, Portugal is riding high behind Cristiano Ronaldo, the Netherlands look exciting and energetic in the attacking third and Belgium has already breezed into the knockout.
If England is eliminated any time before the semifinal, it will be a massive failure. This could be Kane’s last tournament in his prime, and the young talent is there, but they have not responded to Southgate. There is a hefty chance that he will not survive in his position if England faces an early exit.
The full bracket will be announced after Groups E and F complete their final matchday, which will take place on Wednesday. From there, England’s path to a title— or shock exit— will be known.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.