England have a clear plan – anything less than the final would be a failure

Dull is the new beautiful in football – especially for England if they win the Euros.

And make no mistake: England have a fantastic chance of lifting the trophy at Wembley next weekend, but it would be a massive failure if they don’t reach the final now.

I never thought England would knock Germany out of a major tournament for the first time since 1966 with no Jack Grealish, no Phil Foden and no Mason Mount in the starting XI when Gareth Southgate has such an exotic deck of cards to play.

That’s before we’ve even thought of accommodating Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham’s exciting talents in the side.

But Southgate’s selection and game plan worked – so what’s not to like about it?

Gareth Southgate’s big decisions were all vindicated in the win over Germany

I expect him to go safety-first again, and focus on leaving the back door shut, against Ukraine because England’s progress to the quarter-finals has been based on clean sheets.

Not since 1966 have they begun a major tournament with four consecutive shut-outs, and that one turned out well for Sir Alf Ramsey.

I can only think of one scenario when safety-first worked against England. In 1982, they drew 0-0 with West Germany and Spain in the second group stage, only to be eliminated from the World Cup without losing a game or a penalty shoot-out.

Thankfully, that can’t happen now. But Southgate has to strike a balance between staying solid and reckless misadventure, and so far he has walked the line well.

But once again, as was the case in Russia three years ago, the draw has opened up kindly for him.

And if England don’t reach the final, with Ukraine and Denmark or the Czech Republic potentially to follow in the semi-finals, it will be a huge let-down.

England now a favourable draw to reach the final at Wembley a week on Sundayv
England now a favourable draw to reach the final at Wembley a week on Sunday

Especially when they have only been required to play one game away from Wembley.

Just don’t expect the game in Rome to be a white-knuckle ride with goals galore. Look what happened to France when they got involved in an end-to-end game of pinball with Switzerland.

Some people think England’s results have been better than the performances, and it’s true they have sometimes been dull.

Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane scored from just about their only two clear-cut chances against Germany, and you do wonder how different the outcome might have been if Thomas Muller had not missed that huge chance to make it 1-1 when he was clean through.

But Southgate’s greatest asset is having all that talent in reserve like an arsenal of nuclear deterrents.

Grealish, Foden, Mount, Sancho, Belligham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all have the capacity to be game-changers.

And perhaps that’s England’s best chance of going all the way: Keep it tight, knowing nobody left on their side of the draw can unleash so much firepower from the bench.

England face Ukraine in Rome before a potential semi-final against Denmark or Czech Republic
England face Ukraine in Rome before a potential semi-final against Denmark or Czech Republic

Dull football can be effective, especially when the subs are such an exciting insurance policy.

And I admire Southgate for ignoring the clamour to go gung-ho and opt for all-out attack. He’s stuck to his guns and he’s my man of the tournament for doing it his way.

I would be very surprised if England did not reach the Euro 2020 final now.

And something would have to go badly wrong for them to fall short.

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