Euro 2024: Can Bellingham, Kane lead England to a major football title?

England hasn’t won a major football trophy since 1966 and hope to break the title drought at Euro 2024.

Two football players celebrate.
England will lean heavily on its star talents Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham at Euro 2024 in Germany [Carl Recine/Reuters]

⚽ England – Key Euros Stats ⚽

Euros appearances: 10
Euro Titles: 0
Best finish: Final (2020)
Euros Record: W15 D13 L10
Goals scored: 51
Biggest win: 4-0 vs Ukraine (Euro 2020)
Player to watch: Phil Foden
World ranking: 4th
Team nickname: The Three Lions                                                                                        Group Fixtures:

  • 16 June: Serbia vs England (Arena AufSchalke, Gelsenkirchen, 9pm local/19:00 GMT)
  • 20 June: Denmark vs England (Frankfurt Arena, Frankfurt, 6pm local/16:00 GMT)
  • 25 June: England vs Slovenia (Cologne Stadium, Cologne, 9pm local/19:00 GMT)

How to follow our Euro 2024 coverage: UEFA Euro 2024 on Al Jazeera

There’s an inescapable irony to the predicament Gareth Southgate finds himself in going into Euro 2024, which starts with England’s opening match of the tournament against Serbia on June 16 in Gelsenkirchen.

Since taking over as England boss in 2016, the 53-year-old has worked assiduously towards transforming the team’s sporting culture. Club loyalties are no longer fault lines, the bottle-neck pressure that came with donning the jersey has been transformed into a privilege, and incongruity has been replaced by identity.

Far from the individualism that marked England’s “Golden Generation” era, Southgate’s setup has been built around the collective.

But things have now gone full circle. He has successfully managed to break up England’s star culture only to find himself trapped in the spotlight.

Southgate’s legacy is the dominant narrative for England heading into the Euros. The tournament is a referendum on his nearly eight-year reign, with a majority of the English public ready to deem it a failure if they don’t bring back the winner’s trophy from Germany.

Football manager sits at media conference.
England manager Gareth Southgate is trying to steer the national side to its first major tournament victory since the 1966 World Cup [Carl Recine/Reuters]

It is now or never for England

In many ways, Southgate’s been a victim of his own success: He led England to an unlikely World Cup semifinal in 2018; lost the final of the previous Euros in 2021 on penalties; and was a Harry Kane penalty away from possibly knocking out the reigning champions France in the 2022 World Cup.

The Three Lions were 13th in the FIFA world rankings when he was handed the managerial reins in 2016 – today they sit fourth. Since the 2018 World Cup in Russia, they haven’t dropped out of the top five.

England’s consistency over the past six years has become so commonplace, it’s almost taken for granted. It’s easy to forget that before Southgate taking over, England’s last appearance in the semifinal of a major tournament came way back at Euro 1996.

Ultimately, international football is a zero-sum game where success is weighed in silver and the Euros feel like now or never proposition for Southgate’s England.

It’s a proposition that’s been reflected in a bold squad selection denoted by uncharacteristic risk. Midfielder Kobbie Mainoo, who has been a revelation for Manchester United this season, has been picked despite only making his England debut in March.

Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Kalvin Phillips – all of whom have been key pillars of Southgate teams – have not been picked.

Beyond the sting of raised expectations, Southgate has found himself bruised by the intangible metric of “potential”. With the attacking talent at his disposal, there is a feeling among fans that Southgate’s unwillingness to throw off the shackles has curbed the team’s progress.

What to do with Foden?

Southgate’s judgement will again be tested in his choice of a starting 11, particularly about where he plays emerging star Phil Foden.

The Manchester City attacker has thrived in the central midfield role he’s been deployed in this season by his manager Pep Guardiola. Foden’s 19 goals from that position led City’s charge to a fourth successive league title and saw him named the English Premier League’s Player of the Season.

However, Southgate has been reluctant to play Foden through the middle and has tended to pair Declan Rice with another defensive midfielder. Given the recent injury troubles of Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw – both of whom have been picked despite making just a combined four league appearances since the start of March – it seems unlikely that will change.

Football player strikes ball during warmup.
If used correctly, rising star Phil Foden could be a difference maker for England at Euro 2024 [Carl Recine/Reuters]

On paper, England has one of the best squads in the tournament.

Alongside Foden, England’s attack features Real Madrid midfield sensation Jude Bellingham and the Bundesliga top-scorer, Harry Kane. Cole Palmer, Ollie Watkins and Rice were all on the Premier League Player of the Season shortlist, and Palmer’s 22 EPL goals were second behind Erling Haaland in the race for the Golden Boot.

The Three Lions went unbeaten during their Euro 2024 qualification campaign and have lost only one game – a friendly to Brazil – in the 12 games they have played since the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

At the Euros, they are drawn in a group that features no side in the world’s Top 20, unlocking a high statistical probability that they will progress to the knockout stages of the tournament.

It is easy to see why England head into Euro 2024 as one of the favourites. The question remains if their performances will match their star billing.

⚽ England’s final squad for Euro 2024 ⚽

Captain: Harry Kane

Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

Defenders: Lewis Dunk (Brighton & Hove Albion), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)

Midfielders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Kobbie Mainoo (Manchester United), Declan Rice (Arsenal), Adam Wharton (Crystal Palace)

Forwards: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United), Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Anthony Gordon (Newcastle United), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), Cole Palmer (Chelsea), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Ivan Toney (Brentford), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)

You can follow the action on Al Jazeera’s dedicated Euro 2024 tournament page with all the match buildup and live text commentary, and keep up to date with group standings and real-time match results & schedules.

Source: Al Jazeera