It’s finally here and as much as I would like to play it down, I’m as excited for this tournament as I was for my very first tournament in 2004. Like in 2004 we have a squad that many believe gives us a chance of success but like every time the National team are due to play you are either a glass half empty kind of person or glass half full!
With reference to the squad that will be bringing it home. If I was choosing a squad of players with my heart from the initial 33 then we all know 3 of the 7 players that I wouldn’t want picked (if you read my 1st blog then this would make me a group 2 fan!). Thinking with my head I feel the initial decisions were the right ones in terms of the 26 players chosen. Once Trent was injured in the warm up games my personal choice would have been James Ward Prowse, I feel as though set pieces could be key in the knockout stages and having him as an option off the bench made sense to me. However, I understand the decision of taking Ben White. This for me is purely based on the fitness of Harry Maguire and the unknown as to how he will react.
People I am sure will laugh at me when I say this, but Harry Maguire is the most important component of the ‘best’ England starting XI. Maguire enables England to play 4 at the back, he is also a leader along the back line and extremely vocal on the pitch. If you take Maguire out you not only lose a voice which is needed with this young squad, you lose the ability to play a back 4 and results in a back 3.
Why Maguire is so key is a back 4 allows for 4 defenders + 1 holding midfielder. Once we play a back 3 I can’t see Southgate not playing 5 defenders + 2 holding midfielders. Hence the emphasis that I put on Maguire being fit to play. He may not make the Croatia game but come the Scotland game I fully expect him to be in the starting line-up.
I’ve gone back and forth in terms of starting XI’s for the game Sunday V Croatia, the line-up I would choose is – Pickford – James Stones Maguire (if fit) Shaw – Rice Bellingham Mount – Sterling Kane Foden (433) or Pickford – Walker Stones White – James Rice Mount Chilwell – Sterling Kane Foden (343).
The team I think Southgate will pick is – Pickford – Walker Stones Maguire Shaw – Rice Phillips Mount – Grealish Kane Foden (433) or Pickford – Stones Coady Shaw – Trippier Rice Phillips Chilwell – Mount Kane Grealish (343).
We know what we are getting with Southgate, he is a defensive minded coach with a ‘let’s not lose the game’ mentality. He see’s England’s strengths as a counter attacking team as opposed to a team who can play on the front foot. As a Nation we hope that he takes the shackles off and that he lets this young team just go out and express themselves, playing football as if they were that young lad playing on the playground.
Reality is as much as we dream of that, if we won every game 1-0 in the group. Drew every knockout game 0-0 and won 4 in a row on penalties would any of us really care? Yes, it would be boring, yes it would put us to sleep but if the result is Harry Kane lifting the trophy…
Major tournament summers are the pinnacle for football fans, we live and breathe this sport. Of course England is the focus but let’s face it as football fans we will still be watching Austria V North Macedonia as much as we will France v Germany, we love this game, It is who we are and what makes us tick. It is an emotion that only football fans know; those butterflies you get the morning of the game both of nerves and excitement.
I don’t take for granted that I am in a privileged position to be attending the game on Sunday. 22,500 people with tickets and I am one of them. After 15 months of football fans around the country being deprived of attending games, I know how lucky I am.
So here is hoping that this summer is the one that counts, a generation defining experience that sets England on the path to glory with football finally coming home. If I was a betting man I’d say last 8 will be the most we can expect this year but if I’m thinking with my heart and not my head then the possibility of 6 out of 7 games at Wembley makes me think maybe just maybe we have a chance.
26 players, 1 end goal and a Nation supporting them every step of the way. 26 players with the chance of bringing everyone together if only for 4 weeks. It’s a huge pressure but one I believe all of them will embrace. Make us proud, play for the shirt and what the shirt represents but most importantly don’t be afraid to dream big that you can be the 1s who finally bring football back home.
More to come from our Bluenose on International duty.