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For the 10th time in 15 attempts at the European Championship, England have reached the tournament proper, gunning to make their first final after two semi-final defeats in 1968 and 1996 and only their second in continental or global competition. On their side is home advantage - it inspired them to victory in the 1966 World Cup and, after ‘30 years of hurt’, to the threshold of the final at Euro 96, only to be deprived by the inadequate length of Paul Gascoigne’s studs and a penalty-shootout-miss-turned-pizza-marketing-exercise by the current manager. “This time, more than any other time,” in the words of another overly optimistic team song, can they get it right?
Using the Telegraph's Euro 2021 predictor tool and inspired by a the rosiest of spectacles, here is a possible path to the final.
Match 1 - draw with Croatia
England begin their campaign at Wembley on Sunday, June 13 with a 2pm kick-off against the 2018 World Cup runners-up and their conquerors in the Moscow semi-final, Croatia. In keeping with disappointing starts at home in 1966 and 1996, as well as at every single European Championship (they are yet to win their opening group game, having lost three and drawn five of their eight since the tournament moved to this format), a draw is the likeliest result. We’ll go for 1-1 with Harry Kane putting England ahead before Croatia grab a deserved equaliser and the second half becomes a nerve-jangling trial.
Match 2 - beat Scotland
Five days later, after concerted criticism England are back on track at Wembley against Scotland on Friday, June 18, winning the 8pm kick-off 2-0 with a convincing first-half performance after the Chelsea and Manchester City players, who looked decidedly rusty during the draw with Croatia, click. Kane is on target again with a centre-half joining him on the scoresheet with a header from a set-piece. With Croatia narrowly beating the Czech Republic, England top the group on goal difference.
Match 3 - beat Czech Republic
Gareth Southgate’s team clinch first place and the home Round of 16 tie they wanted. Having hammered the Czech Republic 5-0 in qualifying back in March 2019, England turn on the style again on Tuesday, June 22 at 8pm to boost their goal difference with a crushing 4-0 victory, Kane moving ahead in the Golden Boot stakes with two first-half goals and Phil Foden scoring his third and fourth goals for the national side. The victory drives a wave of national euphoria, the boycotters apart, and a last 16 knockout tie against the runners-up of Group F.
Round of 16
Match 4 - beat Portugal
As winners of Group D England face their trickiest obstacle, a match against the runners-up of the most competitive group which contained favourites France, champions Portugal, habitual nemesis Germany and Hungary, derelict as a major force now but the country that first punctured England’s hubristic sense of indomitability in 1953. The likeliest runners-up, notwithstanding Germany’s ability to overcome pre-tournament wobbles in the galvanising heat of competition, are Portugal, who beat them in knockout matches on penalties at the 2004 Euros and the 2006 World Cup. Although they managed to win a shootout in Russia, England’s best chance comes in regulation play plus extra-time. It will be a high-quality match and England will stutter against the opposition’s stellar midfield and attack but will ultimately nick it 2-1 with goals from Kane and Raheem Sterling.
Match 5 - beat Spain
Their only trip out of the country takes England to Rome for a last-eight tie against Spain on Saturday, July 3 and an 8pm kick-off. In the Eternal City, where they sealed qualification for the 1998 World Cup with one of their greatest performances, a masterclass of defensive organisation and discipline in the 0-0 draw in 1997, England nick a tight, absorbing contest 1-0 when Harry Maguire loses his marker at a corner and bullets in the winning header. ‘Fifty-five years of hurt’ doesn’t scan but it doesn’t prevent it being sung at Luton airport by a socially-distanced crowd as Kane leads his players down the aircraft steps.
Match 6 - beat Denmark
Only once in five previous attempts at major tournaments have England won a semi-final - at Wembley against Portugal on July 26, 1966 - but now they break a run of four successive defeats at this stage against dark horses Denmark on Wednesday, July 7 in Wembley’s second semi-final. Having lost 1-0 at home to the Danes in last October’s Nations League match, a full-strength England exact some revenge with Ben Chilwell scoring the third past Kasper Schmeichel in a 3-1 victory, threading the ball past the keeper in an echo of the Cup final but this time from an onside position.
Five wins and a draw, none of them straightforward, are all it takes to put England in their first final for 55 years.
Match 7 - beat France
Although England have never beaten France in three attempts at the Euro finals, they have defeated them twice at the World Cup, in 1966 and 1982 and lost only twice in 11 matches in London. England have also never played the World Cup holders at the Euros and somehow this novelty spurs Harry Kane to knock the winner past Hugo Lloris. At last England lift the Henri Delaunay trophy and Kane beams with silver in one hand and the Golden Boot in the other.