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England’s Euro 2020 Group Opener to Prove Pivotal

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England’s Euro 2020 Group Opener to Prove Pivotal

 

England polished off their Euro 2020 campaign in style, achieving an 11-0 aggregate score over their November qualifiers. After punishing Montenegro 7-0 and putting 4 goals past Kosovo, England now have some serious momentum ahead of next summer’s Euros.

For England, those Euros start with a group that already has two very familiar opponents within it, and a third yet to be decided, which adds to the intrigue that surrounds a uniquely intercontinental 24-team Euro 2020 tournament.

Croatia opener ‘crucial’

Euro 2004 saw England come from behind to beat Croatia, but in the qualifiers for the next Euro finals, Croatia won 3-2 at Wembley and condemn England to arguably their second-darkest night of modern times, qualifying for Euro 2008 in the Three Lions’ stead.

Then came England’s 9-2 aggregate win over Croatia during the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, but nine years later, Croatia came from behind to beat England and deny them a place at the World Cup. Suitably riled, England returned the favour to proceed to the UEFA Nations League semi-finals, relegate Croatia to League B and ensure that they were not guaranteed at least a Euro 2020 playoff spot in advance.

 

Given the lower seeding of the potential teams that could join England and Croatia in Euro 2020 Group D, current football odds imply that this emphatic opener will have a telling impact on the final makeup of the group. Based on their performance during the Euro 2020 qualifiers, that implication appears to be based on more than just pedigree.

Significantly, Croatia are currently undefeated in 23 of their 30 matches under Zlatko Dalic, winning seventeen times and averaging nearly two goals per-game. In terms of Euro 2020 qualifying alone, the Dalic era has also seen Croatia habitually win in style, scoring three or more goals in each of their three victories, prior to beating Georgia 2-1 despite having nothing but pride to play for.

Three Lions face Czechs Again

England will round off their group with a rematch against the Czech Republic at Wembley on 23 June, with the combined psychological advantage of home form and a 5-0 head-to-head win as recently as March.

While England will be odds-on favourites, the Czechs are by no means travel-shy, and never play for the draw on hostile turf. Following their inconsequential 1-0 defeat in Bulgaria in November, the Czech Republic have not drawn any competitive away match since September 2011. Albeit mostly against far-inferior teams, a majority of those results have been wins.

Before losing against Bulgaria, the Czechs had also scored first in eight of ten preceding Euro qualification away games, winning 75% of the time after doing so. Ultimately, England will underestimate the Czechs at their peril.

Scots Amongst Four-way Battle to Join England

Next spring, one of Scotland, Israel, Norway and Serbia will complete the lineup for Group D. All eyes, unsurprisingly will be on Scotland, for whom the 1998 World Cup remains the last outing in a major tournament. England would certainly fancy their chances, given how dreadfully Scotland travelled in the qualification round.

Starting with a 3-0 humiliation in Kazakhstan, Scotland scored a flush run of away losses against any team seeded higher than San Marino and Cyprus, conceding ten goals without riposte. Albeit not to an extent to threaten England’s chances, Scotland have visibly grown in character since that dark night at the Nursultan Arena, and very nearly scored a famous win at Hampden Park in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Should Scotland fail yet again to appear at a major final, any of the other three teams will provide a narrative nonetheless. Amongst them are Scotland’s first playoff opponents Israel, who once held England to an infamous 0-0 draw, which had a huge impact on the Three Lions’ failure to qualify for Euro 2008.

Meanwhile, a clash with Serbia would be England’s first in any competition, and Norway’s presence would give England a first competitive head-to-head since June 1993, when England lost and took a giant step towards failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

What are England’s Chances FromHere?

While it is difficult for any England fan to admit, a lot hinges on Harry Kane going into the tournament with pristine form and fitness.

After notching his most recent international goal (against Kosovo) the England captain has ten goals across his last six international appearances, including two hat-tricks. Even so, the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy and Trent-Alexander Arnold are enjoying stellar seasons right now, with the potential for Manchester United duo Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford to improve rapidly over the next six months.

Considering how England managed to evade France and Germany in the group stage, the more optimistic of pundits of Fresh Football believe England can go far. After getting a relatively favourable draw, England are now averaging around 4/1 in the outright stakes, making them second-favourites in most cases (behind world champions France) to lift the Euro 2020 trophy.

 

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