The hopes and expectations of an entire nation will once again surface as England begin preparation for Euro 2016, with Roy Hodgson’s side hoping to do themselves proud in a tournament that could point towards a bright or dark future for the national team.
While the focus should remain on a Premier League season that has been the most unpredictable, yet dramatic and exciting, in recent history, the players will undoubtedly have one eye on this summer and will look to make an impression at their respective club in order to make the 23-man squad. It remains to be seen who Hodgson selects to represent England, but although the Three Lions are dark horses with Bookies.com to come back from France victorious, history would suggest that it will take a monumental effort to not only stop the hosts, along with Germany and Spain, from showing why they are considered the favourites, but also go further than they ever have done in the past.
England have often been criticised for failing to perform during major international tournaments, with their European Championship record illustrating a long-standing inability to the quality they have possessed over the years tell. Hodgson certainly has a number of highly promising young players and breakthrough stars to choose from to represent England at Euro 2016, but it is their ability to play as a team that has proved costly in previous tournaments. The long-standing argument over whether Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard could function in the same team created an imbalance that was never addressed, while performances have been well below the quality that England have in their squad.
Euro 2016 may, therefore, be a tournament in which expectation levels are lower than usual, but with the likes of Ross Barkely, Dele All and Eric Dier ready to make a real impact this summer, England could well be considered dark horses if they apply themselves. Bookies.com could offer good value on the Three Lions making it all the way to the Final for the first time in history, especially if fans are able to take a no-risk punt on England going further than they ever have done before. Free bets from Sky Bet work the same way, with their offers providing an incentive for punters to consider backing an underdog instead one of the favourites, and with England among a number of teams who have the quality to make a real impact, backing them may be a wise decision.
Ardent England fans will know that the national team have only made it as far as the semi-finals on two occasions in 1968 and 1996, when the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham came agonisingly close to glory on home soil, only for Germany to come back to haunt them once again in a penalty shootout. The painful exit at Wembley signaled the beginning of a curse that England have struggled to eradicate, with the side also falling short from the spot in 2004 and 2012; this problem also extends to World Cup tournaments, but failing to handle the pressure may come back to haunt England in the summer and in future tournaments.
Hodgson may have enjoyed a 100% record during their successful qualification campaign, and although critics may point to the lack of quality across the other teams who made up the group, England applied themselves much better than they have done over the years. In the thirteen European Championships that England have entered since 1964, they have failed to qualify on no less than five occasions, with the most recent leading to the infamous Wally with the Brolly newspaper headline after Steve McClaren lost a decisive qualifier at Wembley against Croatia to end any hope of participating at Euro 2008.
On the eight occasions that England have managed to qualify, only half of the those tournaments have resulted in England making it past the group stage; being drawn against Russia, Slovakia and Wales gives England a good opportunity to make it five, but all three teams represent an element of danger that Hodgson and the team should not under-estimate.