I love watching football at any level and I enjoyed watching England in the Euros. It was great to see England get to the final of a major tournament for the first time since they won the World Cup in 1966. The buzz of watching England play so well to the return of a full crowd after such a difficult year was immense. Ultimately, it ended as it always seemed to: a penalty-shootout defeat by the finest of margins against an elite side. Though England played so well, their success was deceiving for several reasons.
Easy run and home advantage for England
Firstly, they had a very favorable draw. Even most England fans would admit to this being true. It could be argued that England didn’t play a top team until Italy in the final. A group of Scotland, Czech Republic and Croatia held no fears, even if they did make hard work of it. An aging German side provided little resistance before a poor Ukraine side was thrashed 4-0. Denmark made it hard for England in the semis before ultimately being beaten by a superior side. Any side who play Ukraine or Denmark in the quarters and semis is incredibly lucky. It drew comparisons to the 2018 World Cup, where England had a similarly favorable run before blowing it against Croatia in the semis. It’s probably fair to argue England would have been beaten by teams such as Belgium and Spain if they’d played them, just as Italy defeated them.
Playing in front of home crowds also massively helped England, potentially being the difference in close games against Germany and Denmark. They will not have such an advantage in the World Cup next year and will also have to cope with other continental heavyweights being introduced like Brazil and Argentina. France and Germany may also have improved by then after they each had disappointing Euros. It seems unlikely England will do as well in the World Cup as they did in the Euros.
Southgate's cautious philosophy may be England's undoing
Another reason that England may not have the best future is the level of quality that their squad possesses and their manager. Though defensively sound, they are slightly deficient in midfield and attack. Rice and Phillips played very well in the Euros, but offered little offensively. Jordan Henderson doesn’t contribute much in that department either. Of course, England do have outstanding attacking midfield players like Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho. However, due to his ultra-conservative philosophy, Southgate chose to limit their playing time even though it was blatantly obvious that Grealish should be starting every game. You can understand Southgate’s philosophy to some degree but it came unstuck against Italy in the final. Despite taking the lead early on, England were negative from then on and seemed to invite pressure. Italy took control from then on and probably should have won the game in normal time, having three times the amount of attempts England had. Against elite sides, a defensive-minded coach like Southgate is inclined to adopt a negative approach but that doesn’t seem to work in the modern game. England may struggle against the big sides at the World Cup.
Part of Southgate’s defensive approach could be a recognition of some limitations in attack. Harry Kane had a very poor opening to the Euros before ultimately coming good, though Raheem Sterling was consistent all the way through. Besides those two though there doesn’t seem to be much of a goal threat from the rest of the team or back-up if either of those two got injured, though Calvert-Lewin would be a decent replacement for Kane.
Nevertheless, England should still do quite well in the World Cup next year, at least reaching the quarters, but they may have just blown the best opportunity they will have for a long time to win a major tournament.