Tuesday 8 June 2021 11:36 am

Trevor Steven: Jack Grealish and Phil Foden can carry England to glory at Euro 2020, but they'll have to beat classy France

In preparation for this column I tried one of those Euro 2020 predictors and, after I’d had a stab at guessing all the results, the final I got was France v England.

The process was by no means a science, but the outcome isn’t too far off what I imagine will happen over the next few weeks.

France are clearly the team to beat, while England are third or fourth favourite, one of a handful of teams who could go all the way.

A factor that I think hasn’t been emphasised enough is the extent to which England could enjoy home advantage.

If they win Group D and reach the final, only one of England’s seven games would be away from Wembley.

It may be glib to say it, but that really should be a big help.

Fundamentally, though, England are among the favourites because of the tremendous talent in their squad.

Jack Grealish is one of those talents and is getting harder and harder to leave out of the starting XI.

International tournament football is often tight. You rarely tear teams apart, so individual skill can make the difference.

Grealish offers that. He does things that no other England player does. He holds onto the ball, draws opponents in and releases it at just the right time – or wins a foul in a dangerous area.

Jack Grealish has a skill-set unique among England players at Euro 2020
Jack Grealish has a skill-set unique among England players at Euro 2020 (Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate may have other ideas, but if I were manager I’d start Grealish.

Phil Foden is another player who I can’t wait to see demonstrate his ability at Euro 2020.

Foden can score goals and change games, and I think this tournament – the timing, home advantage – is just right for him.

It’s not just me saying that; some of the world’s best coaches rave about him too. 

This could be where he goes to the next level, and if he has a terrific tournament I think he will carry England to the final. 

The question England must answer at Euro 2020

My main concerns about England relate to how they will play and the fitness of some key individuals.

Southgate has so many options that it is hard to know how England will line up or try to break teams down in a given game.

I expect he will change his XI from match to match with the specific opponents in mind, as managers often do now.

I’m more old-school and believe in choosing your best XI players. The upshot is that I don’t think England are sure who they are.

It is still not clear, meanwhile, how much Harry Maguire or Jordan Henderson will be able to play at Euro 2020.

Bear in mind that being match-fit is not just about physical condition; it is about being in a state of top form.

Southgate has so many attacking options that it is hard to predict what England team he will pick at Euro 2020
Southgate has so many attacking options that it is hard to predict what England team he will pick at Euro 2020 (Getty Images)

Maguire and Henderson may be able to reach that as the tournament goes on, but the margins are so fine at this level that if you are a yard off the pace you might as well be a mile.

Then there is Harry Kane. England need him to be firing but his fitness – his ankles, in particular – always feel precarious.

The draw has also not been too kind to England, who will likely face Germany or Portugal in the last 16 if they win their group. 

But I do believe that the players have the quality to get to the final and perhaps even win Euro 2020.

Do England have the quality operationally, as a whole squad and management team, to do it?

That is a question that won’t go away until we finally win something again.

Kante and Deschamps make it France’s to lose

France have a tricky opening game against Germany in Munich and are in the dreaded Group of Death.

But there are so many other reasons to be confident about their chances at Euro 2020. 

One of the key factors is that, in coach Didier Deschamps, they have someone who has done it all.

These tournaments are decided by fine margins. Teams can play well to a point and then crumble – England have been good at that.

Having someone like Deschamps, a World Cup winning captain and coach, can make the difference.

It helps that France also have lots of players capable of being decisive too. 

One-man defensive screen N'Golo Kante is another reason why France are the team to beat at Euro 2020
One-man defensive screen N’Golo Kante is another reason why France are the team to beat at Euro 2020 (Getty Images)

They already had a fearsome attack before recalling Karim Benzema, one of the great strikers of the last 10-15 years.

But for all of France’s flair, the name I am drawn to is N’Golo Kante. 

Kante is coming off one of those seasons and seems immune to both pressure and bad games.

He thwarts teams almost single-handedly and there isn’t really anyone else like him.

If I were French, I’d think it was our tournament to lose.

Other Euro 2020 contenders – and a dark horse

Belgium are also in that clutch of teams with aspirations of winning Euro 2020.

They are the oldest squad at the tournament but they do have the required quality. 

That said, this group of players has been backed to win before and is still to deliver. 

I think Belgium will reach the latter stages again but will need a fully fit Kevin De Bruyne, without whom they will come up short.

Italy come into Euro 2020 with a momentum that can’t be ignored. They are 27 games unbeaten under Roberto Mancini.

Their strengths are their solidity, mentality and togetherness, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t get to the latter stages.

I feel they lack an internationally recognised striker or any outstanding individuals, though.

When they come up against another quality team, that lack of creativity could let Italy down.

Having reached their first finals this century, Scotland could be a surprise package
Having reached their first finals this century, Scotland could be a surprise package (Getty Images)

Holders Portugal, like France, have the advantage of a coach who has led them to glory before.

You wonder whether some of their stars are now a little long in the tooth, however.

Spain can’t be discounted either, although they are a team in transition under Luis Enrique and this tournament may come too soon.

Don’t laugh, but if you are looking for an outsider to outperform expectations then I fancy Scotland.

In my Euro 2020 predictor simulation, they finished third in Group D but still made the semi-finals with wins over Denmark and Wales.

Steve Clarke is a very astute modern manager and has built a winning mentality.

Having not reached a major finals since the last century, Scotland will be able to play with zero pressure.

I’d love to see them do well. Watch this space.

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