Advertisement

'Why England's story can have a different ending this time'

Alan Shearer's BBC Sport column
[BBC]

Here we go again, then. Another final. One more game. One last push.

Before we think about what comes next, the fact we are here, again, is worth savouring. I turned 50 before I saw England reach a major men’s final in my lifetime, and now we are into our second in the past three years, and our first ever on foreign soil.

Just getting here should be a reason for celebration but Gareth Southgate has already changed the narrative so that the expectation is for us to go deep into these tournaments, and of course everyone wants the next step.

Now England just have to go and finish it off, to get over the line and give us the ending that everyone wants, the one with Harry Kane lifting the trophy at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

As an England player, captain, fan or pundit, these are the moments I have dreamed of, and hopefully Sunday’s Euro 2024 showdown with Spain will turn out to be a very special day.

Reasons to believe we can win

We are going to play the best team in the tournament, who have won all six games without needing penalties, and have been so impressive with everything they have done, but there are still reasons to think this England team can win and put themselves in the history books.

For starters, you know Gareth and his players will believe they can do it. They have always made it clear they have come to this tournament to win it, and that confidence has never wavered.

Our performances in Germany have not always backed that up, but even when we were not playing well there have been other ways where we have shown why we have gone the distance, and why we have an incredible chance in the final as well.

I’m talking about the character to come from behind and find a way to win in all three knock-out ties, the big moments from individuals to score such vital late goals and those perfect penalties under pressure in the shootout with Switzerland.

We’ve got players who have changed games from the bench and, dare I say it, we’ve had a bit of luck along the way – like when Xherdan Shaqiri hit the woodwork in the final seconds of our quarter-final against the Swiss, or the awful penalty decision that went our way against the Netherlands.

Those sort of moments cost us in the past – I remember watching Chris Waddle hitting the post in extra-time of our World Cup semi-final against West Germany in 1990 and being on the pitch when Darren Anderton did the same at Euro ’96 – so it’s nice when things go our way.

Oh, and we have showed we can play a bit, too. As I said in my commentary for Radio 5 Live, the way we responded to going a goal down in Dortmund against the Dutch was perfect, really.

England upped the tempo and the pace of our passing, showed energy and intent and really stretched Ronald Koeman’s side in the first half by playing high up the pitch. It was definitely the best we have played at these Euros, and was exactly what I’d been waiting for from this team.

I know we also had to suffer, for example in the second half when we dropped back and lost our intensity, but you are never going to control games for 90 minutes at this level.

It can be draining watching England with the way games ebb and flow, and I am sure it will be the same story for spells against Spain, but tactically we will be ready for whatever they throw at us.

Alan Shearer co-commentating on England's Euro 2024 win over the Netherlands
Shearer co-commentated on England's Euro 2024 win over the Netherlands for BBC Radio 5 Live [BBC]

Subs must keep making a difference

A lot has been made of the noise around England at this tournament, and how the players have been responding to their critics, myself and the other BBC pundits included.

When you analyse it, however, no-one has really said anything different to what the squad have said themselves when they have not played well.

Like us, they knew they could do better… and they have improved. Gareth said himself that the performance against Switzerland was England’s best so far, and then said the same again after the semi-final.

You can never please everyone, though. I know there are lots of people on social media still questioning Kane, saying he should not start against Spain, but I thought he played well in the first half against the Dutch, when he had one shot brilliantly saved.

Whatever you think about the penalty decision that England got, he was there to take the initial shot that led to the foul being given, and then he has stuck his spot-kick away and is now joint-top scorer at the tournament with three goals.

Ollie Watkins asked different questions when he replaced Kane and won the match for us by running behind the Dutch defence, but starting a game is very different to making an impact like that off the bench.

I have no doubt that Gareth will stick with Harry for the final, and rightly so, but we also know we have players who are ready to come on and make a difference if needed. Our squad is another reason I am really encouraged about what is to come.

England are fearless too

As well as a real depth of talent, the other thing this England squad has in abundance is togetherness and team spirit.

It has served them well over the past few weeks and helped them find the answers to the problems they have faced, and they are going to need more of the same on Sunday.

This is a different Spain side to the one of a few years ago who would have 70% or 80% of possession, but they will still want to dominate the ball and they have some incredible individual players like Lamine Yamal, Nico Williams and Rodri, who hardly ever loses a game these days for club or country.

There are going to be intense individual battles but England have got players who can hurt Spain too, and we possess another quality which will be crucial - fearlessness. Our younger players like Kobbie Mainoo and Marc Guehi certainly won’t be intimidated by the opposition, or the occasion.

This England team is on the brink of something very special and Sunday is their chance to make that happen. I can’t wait to see how they get on.

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan in Germany.