Speaking ahead of Belgium’s trip to Wembley on Sunday, PFA Player of the Year Kevin de Bruyne backed England for great things, saying “They should be very excited,”
“It’s a very young team with a lot of potential.
“They should aim to win the next Euros and World Cup. I think they have that potential.”
Many England fans scoffed at such a far-fetched idea but, after grinding out a 2-1 victory over the top-ranked Belgians on Sunday, de Bruyne’s assessment is suddenly worth looking in to.
But was this just the lucky outcome of a sub-par game, or the result of a newfound winning spirit that could prove the catalyst for England’s first major trophy since 1966?
Southgate instils winning mentality
England have long been considered the flat-track bullies of the international scene, boasting a qualifying record second to none only to come undone as soon as the first whistle of a major tournament is blown.
But there have been glimpses of change since Gareth Southgate took charge.
The Three Lions reached the semi-final of a major competition for the first time since 1996 in the 2018 World Cup, erasing many of the painful memories of Euro 2016 and that shock defeat to Iceland.
They followed that with a run to the semi-finals of the inaugural UEFA Nations League, but they continue to come unstuck when facing top quality opposition.
England have won 29 of their 45 matches since Southgate took charge in 2016, but only seven of these came in their 19 meetings with the current FIFA ranked top 15 nations.
But there are signs of change. Their seven meetings with top 15 sides since that World Cup exit in 2018 have produced five wins, one draw and just one defeat.
Their most recent victory was that 2-1 triumph over Belgium, and it was a win that perhaps showed how far England have come under Southgate.
Both teams were missing key players and neither were playing to the best of their abilities, but England took their chances and made full use of the good fortune that was thrown their way.
While they were outplayed in the first half, they looked resolute and determined after Mason Mount’s second half goal and kept a Belgian side awash with attacking talent at bay.
It wasn’t a glamorous win by any stretch of the imagination, but it was one that will greatly please the England manager.
It leaves them top of Group A2 in the Nations League and hints at the potential for success in next year’s delayed European Championships.
England lag behind other favourites
Kevin de Bruyne’s comments and their win over Belgium have seen England made outright favourites for the Euros next summer, with prices as short as 4/1 being offered for the Three Lions to end their eternal wait for a trophy.
But are they really favourite material? What about the other undeniably talented and impressive outfits?
France – 11/2
Reigning world champions France come in as second favourites, and there’s no doubt they have the pedigree to make good on their short odds.
France, bestowed with world-class talents such as Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann to name just a few, are unbeaten in 11 matches and have lost only twice since their triumph in Russia two years ago.
Nine of their last 11 games have ended in victory, including a 7-1 demolition of Ukraine last week prior to their drab goalless draw against Portugal on Sunday.
It would take a brave man to back England against this France side, and we think the world champions hold a great deal more value than the favourites.
Belgium – 11/2
Belgium may have lost to England on Sunday, but it’s certainly worth noting that they were without talisman Eden Hazard and the prolific Dries Mertens.
That being said, their fabled Golden Age is slowly drawing to a close. Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Axel Witsel and Dries Mertens are all the wrong side of 30 and Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard are both 29.
Their Golden Age does have a couple more tournaments left in them though, and next year’s Euros will be their best chance of making good on the promise of their potential.
They reached the quarter-finals in World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016 and then went on to claim the bronze medal in Russia two years ago.
Belgium suffer from the same stage-fright that tormented England’s Golden Generation, but they have been getting closer in recent years and they’re still a better value choice than the Three Lions next summer.
Germany – 7/1
Serial winners Germany come in at 7/1 despite their shock group stage elimination from the 2018 World Cup.
That being said, they did win the World Cup in 2014 and the spine of their current team is composed of a handful of key players from the dominant Bayern Munich side.
Manuel Neuer, Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry are all present in the current squad, while Thomas Muller’s impressive form is undoubtedly putting him on Joachim Low’s radar once again.
That being said, the Germans haven’t exactly been unstoppable recently. They are unbeaten in nine matches, but only five of those have ended in victory and they were recently held by both Switzerland and Turkey.
More often than not, Germany come to life in the high pressure environment of the major finals, so it would be brave to back against them.
Netherlands – 7/1
It’s surprising to see Netherlands up among the favourites for next year’s finals. They failed to even qualify for Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup and recently lost manager Ronald Koeman.
Replacement Frank de Boer has failed to win his first two games, with the most recent being a drab goalless draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
They do have a young and talented group of players, but while the class of Virgil van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, Donny van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong is unquestionable their overall setup looks way off when compared with the other major nations.
Spain – 7/1
This Spain team is a far cry from the all-conquering squad that won three consecutive major tournaments just a decade ago but, while replacing Xavi and Iniesta is an impossible job, the current squad certainly shouldn’t be written off.
Barcelona prodigy Ansu Fati has started to make waves for both club and country, while Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Dani Olmo are all filled to the brim with potential. Behind them are the incredibly experienced duo of Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets, and manager Luis Enrique is making this setup work.
Spain are unbeaten in 15 matches and have won 11 of those, although it is worth noting their opposition has generally been pretty weak in this period.
However, with another year for the likes of Fati, Torres and Traore to develop it’s easy to imagine Spain rising to the top once again.
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