England could win the European Championships. No, I haven't had a stroke. It's true.
Throughout the build-up to the tournament, I would have been the first to dampen expectations. It was an easy qualifying group. The team haven't beaten a major side in a tournament since Argentina in 2002, a major side in the knock-outs since Spain in 1996, and a major side in normal time in the knock-outs since the 1966 World Cup final. The squad contains worryingly high levels of Jordan Henderson and is at serious risk of Phil Jagielka.
But, there are several reasons to get headily excited, and not just the residuals of Daniel Sturridge's toe poke deceiving Wayne Hennessey sending Englishmen into delirium.
Firstly, the lack of quality elsewhere in the tournament. At the time of writing on the morning of Saturday, June 18, only one game has seen a three goal winning margin by Spain against an abysmal Turkey. This was a Spain which toiled to victory against an equally unimpressive Czech Republic, who at the end perhaps deserved to snatch a draw.
Germany were equally poor against Poland, and were driven all the way by a Ukraine side which then lost to Northern Ireland. France have snatched largely undeserved wins at the death against Romania and Albania, arguably the two most limited sides in the tournament. The much hyped Belgians flopped in their opener, as did Portugal with Ronaldo again looking less than his best at a major tournament. Even the dark horses of Austria, Croatia and Poland have looked limited.
England have a history of capitalising on the failings of others at major finals. Their two best World Cup showings - in 1966 and 1990 - were in two of the lesser iterations, the former losing its best player (Pele) to injury and best team (Brazil) in the group stage, the latter being characterised by negative football and low scoring, the semis won on penalties and the final won by a penalty.
Euro 96, the best England showing in a Euros tournament starring more than four teams, was also dire. Few games were settled by more than one goal, possibly the best team (Italy) again went out in the groups, and then there was David Seaman's kits. But England almost won it. It could happen again.
Meanwhile this England team is, minus the sadly exhausted Harry Kane and confidence vacuum Raheem Sterling, really quite exciting. The midfield three of Rooney, Alli and Dier is bearing fruit, the defence is hardly as shambolic as warned and features the best attacking right back in the tournament in Kyle Walker, and with any luck Jamie Vardy will now start as it would be good to see a striker who can score get a run out.
There is also hope in the manager. Roy Hodgson clearly realised his mistakes against Russia, and took Kane off corners and was ambitious in his subs. If Fabio Capello was in charge, he would have made Kane take goal kicks to spite everybody, then played Milner as a centre forward.
England haven't had an inspiring tournament run since 2004. Maybe the drought has made me delirious, but there is hope this year could finally produce another one.
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