England centre-half Chris Smalling insists the Three Lions are determined to seize their Euro 2016 opportunity and ensure that Roy Hodgson’s wide-eyed squad leave no regrets on French soil.
Hodgson has named the youngest England squad to head to a major competition in 58 years, since the 1958 World Cup, while an average age of just under 26 makes it the most junior at the European Championship.
For many it represents their first experience of a senior international tournament, although Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has already spoken of how England’s youthful exuberance is something to embrace rather than fear.
While there are questions still to be answered regarding England’s best formation and starting XI for Saturday’s Group B opener against Russia in Marseille, Smalling admits there is a groundswell of excitement and not trepidation amongst the players.
“We’re all of the mindset that this is our chance. It’s time to seize it,” said Smalling.
“There are quite a few players who have not been in France or at a major tournament before and I think it’s a case of enjoying the time we are together.
“We have a lot of things to do in the afternoon, be it games or just playing off each other, just enjoying the moment because not many people get the chance to come to major tournaments.
“The facilities are brilliant, so it’s just about enjoying it and taking that out on the pitch. Each day it gets closer and closer, that build up of excitement, it’s just drawing near.
“When you join up you think you’ve got quite a few days until the game but it does creep up on you and it’s that excitement. When you start to get those nerves creeping in and start to do a few more meetings on the way Russia play, then we’ll be fully ready.”
Manchester United defender Smalling, 26, played down concerns over his fitness after he left Tuesday’s training session with an ice pack strapped around his left knee, an injury which would spark a defensive crisis.
Hodgson opted to select just three out-and-out centre-backs for the tournament, while one of those, Gary Cahill, required painkilling injections on a hip injury before leaving England.
“There is no injury scare there, it’s normal,” said Smalling. “I often ice different parts of my body or jump in an ice bath. It’s just normal recovery process to be ready for the next day, no worries there.
“[But] we’e got a couple of other people who can play centre-back so I don’t think it’s a position that’s necessarily a worry. I think we’re very well covered in all positions.”