As England prepare for their Euro 2020 semi-final clash with Denmark, the nation will hoping that the Three Lions can go one better than they did at the World Cup in Russia three years ago.
Having gone into the tournament with little expectation following a succession of dismal major tournament displays under Roy Hodgson, Gareth Southgate’s men delivered above and beyond the predictions of many, igniting the nation’s tournament fever with an unexpected run to the last four.
After seeing off Tunisia and Panama in the group stage, England then broke their World Cup penalty shootout duck against Colombia in the last-16, before enjoying a relatively calm progression against Sweden in the quarter-final.
Faced with an impressive, yet no doubt beatable Croatia side in the semi’s, Southgate’s boys made the perfect start, Kieran Trippier firing in a free-kick inside five minutes to spark jubilation, before an inevitable late capitulation saw Luka Modric and co run out 2-1 winners after extra-time.
With the current crop hoping to go one better and reach just a second major tournament showpiece on Wednesday evening, let’s take a look at the starting XI which fell short back in 2018.
Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford
Jordan Pickford is currently enjoying a fine Euro 2020 having not conceded in five games thus far and has already wrapped up the tournament’s Golden Glove award with two games left to play, building on the superb form he showcased in Russia.
It’s rare in the modern game to see a player raise their game for the international stage, yet the Everton stopper seems to do just that, putting aside his questionable club form to become a hugely reliable presence for his country.
In 2018, the former Sunderland man starred as England saw off Colombia on penalties, saving brilliantly from Carlos Bacca in the shootout, while he also produced a string of fine saves late on to deny the Swedes in the last eight.
Another fine display followed in the semi-final, yet the rave loving Pickford couldn’t help steer his side to glory.
Right-wing-back: Kieran Trippier
For over 60 minutes of the semi-final, the aforementioned Trippier looked like being England’s matchwinner, having struck early on with that stunning, dipping free-kick to hand his side the perfect start and to settle the nerves.
The peak moment of a glorious summer, as the ball hit the back of the net the nation really did begin to believe that it could be their year, with the goal capping what had been a fine tournament for a player who’d only made his international bow a year prior.
As the old cliche goes, however, it looked as if the Three Lions had perhaps just scored too early, as they attempted to hang on for the remainder of the game, before Ivan Perisic struck a killer blow to equalise in the 68 minutes.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) July 11, 2018
Centre-back: Kyle Walker
As he did against Germany at Euro 2020, Kyle Walker was deployed in an unconventional role on the right of a back three in 2018, with Gareth Southgate looking to capitalise on his remarkable recovery speed.
In truth, while he looks more comfortable and assured in the position now, it was a testing summer for the Manchester City man, beginning with the penalty he conceded in the opening game win over Tunisia.
While he recovered well from that incident to retain his place for the remainder of the tournament, his defensive shortcomings were once again laid bare in the semi-final, the pacy full-back arguably at fault for both goals as England crashed out.
Centre-back: John Stones
Walker’s club teammate, John Stones was at his very best in Russia, both defending his own box but also providing a threat in the opposition penalty area.
Having played a key role in England’s opening goal of the tournament, the former Barnsley man then remarkably struck twice against Panama in the second group game, choosing the perfect time to bag his first ever goals for his country.
Despite the highs of that tournament, Stones was left in the footballing wilderness for both club and country in the years that followed, although has since played a key role in City’s title triumph and has made a welcome return to Southgate’s squad, having been a certainty to miss out when the tournament was originally meant to go ahead 12 months ago.
Centre-back: Harry Maguire
Major tournaments often have the ability to propel players into the limelight and that was the case for then Leicester City defender Harry Maguire, the ball-playing centre-back going from relative unknown to become the nation’s sweetheart.
Like Trippier, the Sheffield-born player had only made his international debut a year prior, yet impressed his manager enough to earn a start in the opening game, going on to score in the quarter-final against Sweden, while also impressing with unerring quality at bringing the ball out from the back.
Those tournament heroics unsurprisingly sparked rumours of a high profile move, as he eventually secured a switch to Manchester United in 2019, going to be handed the armband less than six months into his time at the club.
He has no doubt come in for fierce criticism since his move to Old Trafford, largely due to his £80m price tag, yet Euro 2020 has shown just how good a defender and an asset he actually is.
“Can you ask the neighbours to put the bins out on Monday? We’re not going home just yet” 🏴 pic.twitter.com/s1g3P3jj34
— Harry Maguire (@HarryMaguire93) July 8, 2018
Left-wing-back: Ashley Young
The only player thus far not to be in the current squad, Ashley Young was a slight surprise inclusion for the tournament, yet thrived in the wing-back role, showcasing his newfound defensive strength, but also his attacking quality from his early career as an out-and-out winger.
The then Man United defender had featured for his country at Euro 2012, yet then suffered a four year absence from England selection, before earning a recall under Southgate in November 2017.
In what proved to be his last appearance in a Three Lions shirt, Young started the semi-final, before being replaced by Tottenham Hotspur defender Danny Rose for the start of extra-time.
He has recently secured a return to Aston Villa, after winning Serie A with Inter Milan last season.
Midfield: Jordan Henderson
One of the senior members of the current squad, Jordan Henderson was in fine form three summers ago, anchoring the midfield in a defensive midfield role to great effect.
With the deployment of two attacking midfielders ahead of him, the Liverpool skipper’s job was hugely important in that tournament, as the man to mop in front of the defence as a protective shield.
He had looked to have cost England in the shootout win over Colombia in the round of 16 after seeing his penalty saved, yet his blushes were spared by fellow Sunderland graduate Pickford, with Eric Dier slotting home the decisive penalty.
Midfield: Dele Alli
Although the backline and goalkeeper has remained largely the same three years on, the midfield is arguably where the most change has occurred, with two of England’s semi-final midfield starters no longer in the squad, including Dele Alli.
The Tottenham man had burst onto the scene as a teenager at MK Dons, before making a smooth transition to life in the top-flight and to life at international level, developing into one of his nation’s key players from 2015 onwards.
Impacted by injury in Russia, Alli looked somewhat off the pace, yet did manage to score against Sweden and retain his place in the semi-final, where England’s midfield trio was arguably overrun but the quality of Luka Modric et al.
Since then, the 25-year-old has suffered a real career nosedive and is out of the picture for both club and country.
Midfield: Jesse Lingard
The other midfield member not involved this summer, Jesse Lingard enjoyed a fine tournament debut in Russia, memorably netting a stunning curling effort in the 6-1 thrashing against Panama.
Off the back of an impressive 2017/18 campaign for Man United, Lingard thrived in his fluid attacking midfield role under Southgate, with his energy and hunger to press a real asset throughout the tournament.
After a lively start in the semi’s, he and England simply faded, as too did his club career on his return home from the tournament.
While he produced heroics on-loan at West Ham United at the back end of last season, earning a place in England’s provisional squad for this summer’s tournament, he ultimately missed out on the final cut, with the Southgate favouring the likes of Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho – all of whom have emerged in the three-year tournament gap.
Lingard vs Panama: All Angles! pic.twitter.com/ldJUcNazeS
— Stadium Astro 😷 (@stadiumastro) June 25, 2018
Forward: Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling may currently be England’s in-form star at Euro 2020, yet he was arguably one of the few players not to enhance their reputation at the World Cup, after enduring yet another barren major tournament.
Playing off focal point Harry Kane, Sterling’s speed and trickery was a notable part of Southgate’s game plan that summer, yet his goal-shy tendencies did him no favours with his critics, with many calling for a start for Marcus Rashford instead.
Defying the doubters, Southgate stuck by the former Liverpool man and handed him a start against Zlatko Dalic’s side, although he was replaced by the younger Rashford on 74 minutes, despite a lively showing.
For many, things could have been so different had Sterling been on the end of a pull back from strike partner Kane with England already 1-0 up, yet as it was the Spurs striker opted to shoot from an acute angle instead, only to be denied by a mixture of the woodwork and Danijel Subasic.
What might have been eh?
This will haunt Kane forever pic.twitter.com/A9EMjBfidb
— dev (@selfrefute) July 11, 2018
Forward: Harry Kane
Having endured a dismal Euro 2016 campaign, Harry Kane more than made up for it with a blistering start to the 2018 World Cup, netting twice against Tunisia, including a brilliant stoppage time winner, before bagging a hat-trick in the second group game against Panama.
A sixth goal would come from the penalty spot against Colombia, that tally ultimately seeing the Spurs man join Gary Lineker as the only Englishmen to have won a World Cup Golden Boot.
Almost in reverse to the current tournament, Kane started brightly before fading as the tournament wore on, with many criticising Southgate’s stubborn refusal to withdraw his captain, despite him looking way off the pace as the competition progressed.
A substitute at the start of extra-time, Danny Rose lost his place in the side with the change in formation and has since gone on to fall out favour at Tottenham. Has recently joined newly-promoted Watford.
Despite a bright Euro 2016 for Eric Dier, club struggles saw him lose his place in Southgate’ side, the England boss favouring Jordan Henderson in the defensive midfield role. That being said, will forever be remembered for his winning penalty against Colombia.
Brought on for Henderson in extra-time.
It’s a crying shame how underused Jamie Vardy was at the World Cup, only entering the fray in the semi’s in extra-time, after England had already fallen behind.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Leicester legend called time on his brief international career after the tournament, although remains in superb form three years on.
Sterling’s replacement against Croatia, Marcus Rashford struggled to really make an impact in the game, nor really in the tournament as a whole. Has suffered a similar fate at Euro 2020, albeit with injury seemingly playing its part.