AFC Bournemouth legend Steve Fletcher believes England must be considered as genuine contenders to win the European Championship.
Fletcher, writing his first Euro 2020 column for afcb.co.uk, thinks a mix of rising young stars and experience could do the trick for Gareth Southgate’s team.
The tournament, delayed from last year due to Covid, kicks off on Friday when Italy face Turkey at the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
Southgate’s Three Lions open their Group D campaign against World Cup runners-up Croatia on Sunday before meeting Scotland and Czech Republic.
Cherries’ appearance record holder Fletcher, whose grandfather Jack Howe was capped by England in the 1940s, will be penning his opinions for afcb.co.uk throughout the tournament.
Here's his first column where he discusses England's chances and the importance of Harry Kane and Harry Maguire to Gareth Southgate's Three Lions.
The first major tournament I can remember was the World Cup in 1982 in Spain. England won their three group games and everybody in the country was asking “could this be our year?”.
Sadly, we didn’t get through the next phase and, for a young lad like me, it set the tone for years of heartache following England!
We weren’t expected to win the last World Cup and did really well to reach the semi-finals, losing out to Croatia, the team we face on Sunday.
Every two years there’s a major tournament and every England fan says “is this going to be our year?” and I am no different.
This year, however, I am different because I really feel we can win it. It’s the first major tournament of my lifetime where we are one of the favourites and rightly so.
We’ve got some of the best young players in the world who are all playing regularly in the Premier League. The likes of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden are matchwinners.
I wouldn’t say we’re ready-made because it’s still a young team and isn’t as experienced as some of the teams we’ve had in the past.
But the good thing is the players are playing regularly and they are young and hungry.
I know the press will build it up and say the country is expecting and I really think we’ve got a huge chance.
I know we’ve said we’ve got a chance in the past but I think that was because we all wear our hearts on our sleeves and, deep down, you would probably say we haven’t.
This time, it’s different though.
But it’s like any other competition, whether it’s domestic or international, you’ve got to perform.
If you don’t, especially in the first couple of group games, you can find yourselves being eliminated early on.
After that, it’s like a cup final in every game and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.
The elite of Europe are playing in this tournament and, in my opinion, it’s going to be harder than when you get to the knockout stages in the World Cup.
The stats tell you that most of the best countries in the world are from Europe.
If we get through the group stage, which I think we should, every game is a cup final and it’s all down to how you perform on the day.
We can have all the best young players and the best talent but, if you don’t perform, you’re out.
I think Harry Kane and Harry Maguire are both going to be vital players for us. Your centre-half and centre-forward are the core of any team.
Your centre-forward sets the tone for any game. When I played there for Mel Machin and Sean O’Driscoll, they said to me that if I played well, predominately, the team would play well.
If I was on my game, closing down and putting defenders under pressure and doing my job, the rest of the team would follow.
I know how important it is for your striker to perform. As a team, you very rarely perform well if your strikers aren’t on it.
With Kane, it’s not just his goals, it’s his all-round game. It’s what he does when he drops deep, holds up the ball and ends up being the playmaker.
He’s the complete striker. We saw this season how he dropped into midfield and went back to defend in his own box.
He was probably the best supplier of goals than any other player and some of his passing was exquisite.
He is going to be huge. Yes, his goals will be huge but the way he plays in general will be just as important.
Centre-half is another crucial position and you only have to ask Liverpool fans just how important it is.
They will say they had a lot of injuries but they would have challenged for the title if Virgil van Dijk had been fit.
He just shows how important your main centre-half is to your team, end of. Anyone who knows anything about football would agree.
Maguire is our top centre-half and has to play if he’s fit.
He has had his critics and righty so. But he’s solid, he’s one of the best in the world and his stats show he was the top centre-half in the Premier League this season.
I’m not saying we can’t win without the two Harrys but, if they are fit, they are two of the first names on the team-sheet and I’m sure most England supporters would agree.
I think we’ve got a huge chance