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Why it could really be coming home for England this summer

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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

At what point do the chants of 'It's Coming Home' turn from ironic to conviction? For those looking for signs that it is genuinely England's time again, there is an encouraging omen.

For the first time since the World Cup winners of 1966, England have kept three clean sheets in the group stages of a major tournament. Throw in the prospect of a Wembley final, albeit a reconstructed version of the one that staged Sir Alf Ramsey's heroes, and perhaps the stars really are aligning.

It will take much more than two 1-0 wins and a dismal draw with Scotland in a far from daunting group to convince anyone that England can triumph at these Euros, but a rock-solid defence is a good sign, regardless of what the nation's finest achieved 55 years ago.

Teams that are hard to beat go far in knockout football.

Greece in 2004 are a classic example of what can be achieved through resilience, while reigning champions Portugal's triumph five years ago only kicked into gear when they managed to shut the back door. After conceding four goals in three group games that saw them qualify for the knockouts in third place without a win, they conceded only one more from the round-of-16 to the final.

So, while focus has been on England's failings up front — with Harry Kane still looking for his first goal of these finals — their impressive defensive work has largely been overlooked.

The natural caution of manager Gareth Southgate, who has deployed two defensive midfielders in each game, is a contributing factor. He also opted for the less adventurous full-back options of Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier in the opening game against Croatia. But the ability to put together a robust rearguard is a valuable quality.

What is particularly impressive is the fact Southgate's team has maintained its defensive shape despite wholesale changes throughout the group stages.

Different full-back combinations have been used in each game, while Harry Maguire broke up the central defensive pairing of John Stones and Tyrone Mings against the Czech Republic.

It is the return of the Manchester United captain from ankle ligament damage that has the potential to give England's backline, and the team as a whole, a new dimension.

His ability to bring the ball out from the back and start attacks is what Southgate has been missing, particularly with two such defensive-minded midfielders in Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.

That was no better illustrated than when Maguire ventured forward and provided the best piece of service Kane has received at any point in these Euros.

With Rice at the base of midfield, Maguire should get more opportunities to advance through the lines. A play-making centre-back? That also has the hallmarks of the Class of '66.

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