England qualify for Euro 2020: Blueprint for success at 'home' tournament

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Gareth Southgate
England will find out who they will play at Euro 2020 when the draw takes place on 30 November

England have secured their place at Euro 2020 after Montenegro were comprehensively outclassed at Wembley - qualification ensured in an emphatic style befitting their 1,000th match and celebrated in front of so many of their most iconic past players.

Gareth Southgate's side must now focus on finishing their group, which concludes in Kosovo on Sunday, with a record that ensures they are seeded next summer.

Euro 2020 is not an official 'home' tournament for England - but with group games at Wembley and the semi-finals and finals also held at the stadium, it is the nearest equivalent since the Euro '96.

So what must Southgate and England do in the coming months to end the barren years since the 1966 World Cup?

Embrace 'home' tournament euphoria

From left to right: Steve McManaman, Gareth Southgate, Paul Gascoigne, Darren Anderton and Teddy Sheringham
Gareth Southgate (second left) played every minute of England's Euro '96 campaign

Those with long memories will recall the 'Football's Coming Home' euphoria of Euro '96 and how a team under Terry Venables that started the tournament in shame, after drinking exploits in a Hong Kong 'dentist's chair', struggled to a draw against Switzerland in their opening game before suddenly sparking into life.

Southgate will. He was a central character in that unfolding story.

Wins over Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain set England up to reach the semi-final against Germany at Wembley, remembered for Southgate's fateful penalty miss in the shootout.

Southgate will also recall how national fervour fuelled that team. No-one at the Football Association will ever use the term 'home' tournament in relation to 2020 as it wishes to host its own event further down the line, but the cards could not have fallen better for England.

He will know from 1996 how such backing, plus performing in familiar surroundings on their own turf at Wembley, can inspire England and their players. Those who figured under Venables went from villains to idols in the space of days, catching the imagination and making themselves national heroes even in familiar defeat.

This England set-up knows they have been presented with a chance to unite team and supporters in the same manner as the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

England's surprise exploits in reaching the semi-final, where they lost to Croatia, were the catalyst for a frenzy of interest back home. The country will have no problem buying into the mood when the action is on its doorstep and the big names are playing in London.

If England can recreate that on home soil next summer, who knows where it will lead?

Unleash England's feared attack

Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Jadon Sancho have scored 21 goals in qualifying

Southgate may have problems to solve in defence and midfield but opponents will have sleepless nights thinking about England when they ponder their attacking strength.

In captain Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho - plus a rejuvenated Marcus Rashford - England have a forward line that stands comparison with any international side in Europe.

They have the capability to trouble every defence at Euro 2020.

Southgate must work out how best to utilise that quartet. The search for guaranteed creation in midfield - an issue which dominated the build-up to the 2018 World Cup - goes on.

Can Leicester City's gifted maverick James Maddison be the answer? He has undoubted ability but as yet he does not seem to have Southgate's full faith, whereas he is clearly a huge admirer of Chelsea's Mason Mount.

What Southgate does know is that England possess an attack every team they face will respect and fear.

Kane is now sixth in England's all-time goalscorers list with 31 goals from 45 internationals and surely on course to break Wayne Rooney's record of 53.

Sterling, for all the turbulence that saw him miss this match as a disciplinary measure after his bust-up with Liverpool's Joe Gomez, is now world class for Manchester City and England while Borussia Dortmund 19-year-old Sancho is one of Europe's hottest properties.

Chelsea's 19-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi has also looked perfectly at home on the England stage. These are attacking riches indeed.

This will be England's biggest weapon at Euro 2020. If Southgate unlocks its full potential, it can fire them to glory.

Cure England's back problem

Jakub Brabec equalises for Czech Republic against England
Twelve of the 33 goals England have conceded under Gareth Southgate have been from set-pieces

England's biggest weakness has the capacity to end their Euro 2020 hopes in short order unless Southgate can find a solution between now and June.

Put simply, there is no evidence England have the defensive personnel or ability to cope when the heat is on against opposition that puts them under serious pressure. Potent at one end - porous at the other.

The cracks appear under stress. They surfaced in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia, against the Netherlands in the Nations League semi-final and, more worryingly, in recent qualifiers against Kosovo at Southampton and the Czech Republic in Prague.

Suffering against high quality is one thing. Suffering against strictly second tier is another. At this stage, Europe's best will regard the prospect of facing this England rearguard as mouth-watering.

The Achilles heel is in central defence, although a lack of protection from an occasionally immobile midfield exacerbates the difficulty.

John Stones has not developed into the player England hoped, struggling for fitness and unable to eradicate errors from his game, while even Harry Maguire's new status as an £85m Manchester United defender does not make him a convincing operator at international level.

Southgate would love Liverpool's Gomez to confirm his rich promise but he is another who appears consistently troubled by injury and is currently on the margins at Anfield.

There is then the undercard such as Aston Villa's Tyrone Mings, Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori, along with the likes of Lewis Dunk at Brighton and James Tarkowski at Burnley, whose colleague Ben Mee has also been touted.

This is currently a list of the unimpressive and the untried. It is undoubtedly Southgate's most pressing problem.

England must cross psychological barrier

John Stones and Jordan Pickford
England produced a defensive horror show in the 3-1 defeat against Netherlands in the Nations League semi-final

For all the plaudits England received after taking the nation on that joyful ride to the World Cup semi-final in Moscow, there was a nagging, almost unspoken doubt.

Southgate's team, as they did against Montenegro, showed an ability to dispatch sides with efficiency but have not truly delivered against serious opposition in knockout football when the pressure is at its most intense.

And whatever happens between now and next June, those doubts will remain. Such has been the nature of qualifying, the current England can only be measured accurately against the best opposition in competition - in other words, next summer.

When England beat Colombia on penalties in Moscow in the last 16, it was their first win at the knockout stage of a major tournament since 2006. Sweden were then beaten before the Croatia loss.

In Russia, the best teams England faced were the Croatians and Belgium, who they played in the group and in the third-place play off. They were beaten each time.

And when they faced the Netherlands in the Nations League semi-final, England produced a defensive horror show in a 3-1 defeat.

If England and Southgate's hopes are to be fulfilled next summer, they must finally overcome this psychological hurdle and beat the bigger teams when the stakes are at their highest.


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