It seems somewhat presumptuous for a nation which hasn’t reached the last four of a European Championship in 25 years to already be eyeing up the winners of a quarter-final that is yet to be played, but this is England we’re talking about.
Three years on from that memorable summer of 2018 when an entire country got behind Gareth Southgate’s men on route to the semi-finals of the World Cup, we’re here again, wrapped up in ‘It’s Coming Home’ hysteria.
It’s a great laugh, and English football fans should enjoy singing an anthem that once again started out as a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, only to now have been blown up into a song packed full of hope and expectation.
If you don’t want to have your spirits dampened, return to the home page now, as a bit of a reality check is incoming.
Football really did come home in 1996. No, we didn’t win the tournament, but that wasn’t the meaning behind the song. As host nation, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s Three Lions track was all about how some of the best talent on the continent was heading to our shores to participate in a tournament that would be enjoyed in stadiums up and down the country.
Then everything changed. Scotland and the Netherlands were brushed aside in emphatic fashion, before a penalty shootout victory over Spain set up a semi-final clash with Germany, 30 years (of hurt) on from Sir Alf Ramsey’s 1966 side lifting the World Cup.
Penalty heartache would follow, as Germany progressed to go on and beat Czech Republic in the final.
However, optimism was rife and the general feeling was that this current crop could make an impact in the latter stages for many major tournaments to come.
Our European Championship record since then?
Euro 2000 – Eliminated at the group stage behind Portugal and Romania
Euro 2004 – Knocked out in the quarter-finals by Portugal
Euro 2008 – Did not qualify
Euro 2012 – Knocked out in the quarter-finals by Italy
Euro 2016 – Knocked out in the round of 16 by Iceland
Even if we do, as expected at Betfred odds of 1/5, progress at the expense of Andriy Shevchenko’s men, a semi-final clash against the winner of Czech Republic and Denmark comes with plenty of danger.
Let’s focus on Czech Republic first. Yes, the same Czech Republic that we mentioned earlier in reaching the final of Euro 1996. They also reached the semi-finals at Euro 2004 only to be defeated in extra time by eventual winners Greece, and this year’s crop have proven already that they aren’t to be underestimated by sending the Netherlands home in the previous round just as everyone was starting to get carried away with Frank de Boer’s side.
In qualifying for this summer’s tournament, the Czechs put an end to England’s 43-game unbeaten run in qualifiers by coming from behind to steal a 2-1 victory.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more Euro 2020 goals than Patrik Schick, with his double against Scotland including a wonder strike that is a serious contender for goal of the tournament.
In Tomas Holes, they also possess a player who has proven his ability to produce when it matters most by following up his opener against the Netherlands with an assist for Schick to wrap things up late on.
If the Czech Republic are to make it to the last four for the third time in seven European Championships, they are going to have to overcome an inspired Danish outfit who simply can’t stop scoring.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that the very fact that Denmark made it out of their group is a miracle. After 41 minutes of their Group A opener against Finland, Christian Eriksen collapsed and received CPR on the pitch in a move that has since been credited with possibly saving his life.
His visibly distressed teammates returned to the pitch to play out the remainder of the game and fell to a 1-0 defeat which paled into insignificance.
They bounced back quickly against world number one ranked side Belgium, with Yussuf Poulsen handing an emotional nation the lead after two minutes, only for Thorgan Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne to strike in the second half to make it two defeats from two games for Kasper Hjulmand’s brave squad.
Not to be denied, they romped to a 4-1 victory over Russia in their final group game to sneak into the knockout stage, much to the delight of the watching world.
Wales, who qualified in second from a group containing Italy, Switzerland and well-fancied Turkey, awaited in the round of 16, but the previous brilliance of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey had no answer for the driven Danes, who blasted them away with four unanswered strikes.
For good reason, Denmark have become the nation that everyone wants to succeed, and they are channelling that positive energy into performances that make them a force to be reckoned with in the latter stages.
Oh, we almost forgot. They have also won the tournament back in 1992, something that only 10 nations can claim to have done, and England aren’t one of them.
For different reasons, both Czech Republic and Denmark would offer stern tests for Southgate and his side, and underestimating either of them could easily end up in a large serving of humble pie.
With that in mind, let’s focus on Ukraine first, shall we?