England boasts firepower with Kane, Bellingham, Foden and Palmer to go far at Euro 2024

Thu, Jun 6, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

England boasts firepower with Kane, Bellingham, Foden and Palmer to go far at Euro 2024

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - With four of Europe's most-prolific scorers, England has the firepower to end a nearly 60-year wait for silverware.

How Gareth Southgate deploys his riches could determine whether it is finally a glorious summer for the Three Lions or if the wait to add a trophy to England's lone World Cup - won in 1966 - drags on.

England will lean on record scorer Harry Kane yet again at the European Championship in Germany but will also look for contributions from Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Cole Palmer.

"There's definitely more options in the attacking areas," Southgate said.

Southgate led England to the 2018 World Cup semifinals and the final of the last Euros - losing to Italy at Wembley Stadium - but he's has been accused of being overly cautious.

"We've got a pretty set style of playing, the players enjoy that and we've had good results doing that. So we are not going to move far away from what we've been," he said.

What that means, exactly, is not clear. Southgate has turned to young and unproven players after injuries and lack of form convinced him to omit regulars Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips. There will be a natural evolution because of that.

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In what could be his final tournament as England manager, Southgate has packed his squad with bold, attacking options.

Kane finished his first season at Bayern Munich empty-handed but with a career-best 44 goals in 47 games to lead Germany's scoring chart.

Bellingham, in his debut season at Real Madrid, scored 23 goals, won the Spanish league and topped it off with the Champions League title. Foden scored 27 in all competitions for Premier League champion Manchester City and was England's footballer of the year.

Arguably the biggest bonus for Southgate is the emergence of Palmer, who was a fringe player at City before joining Chelsea for $51 million last summer.

The 22-year-old Palmer scored 27 goals in his first season of regular senior soccer. Only double golden boot-winner Erling Haaland scored more league goals in England.

It is an enviable depth of attacking talent, with Arsenal's Bukayo Saka and City winger Jack Grealish among Southgate's other options.

"You can see across that forward line the number of goals they've scored for their clubs this year," Southgate said. "So you need those options. You need people to be able to come in and refresh the team."

England has so many options that Southgate could afford to leave out Rashford and Raheem Sterling, who have been important players in previous tournaments.

He has picked players for now - but also ones that could serve England for years to come. Even if his contract is due to expire at the end of the Euros, Southgate is still looking to the future.

But England fans are hungry for success now after the relative disappointment of exiting in the quarterfinals of the last World Cup. That was the first backward step since Southgate's appointment in 2016 when there were doubts about whether he was the right candidate to end the nation's search for a men's trophy.

England was within a few penalty kicks of winning the last Euros, having led against Italy in the final. Southgate had gambled by bringing on Rashford and Jadon Sancho as substitutes at the end of extra time for the shootout. Both missed their spot kicks, as did Sako.

Still, Southgate has exceeded expectations - but the trophy wait goes on.

On the face of it, England's forward line for the Euros could pick itself, with Foden and Palmer either side of Kane and Bellingham operating behind as a No. 10.

Perhaps only their lack of playing time together would convince Southgate to turn to Saka, who is a more established member of the England setup than Palmer. The 24-year-old Foden, too, is yet to fully stamp his mark on the team, despite now being a six-time title-winner with City.

It is not just about the players, but the system.

Southgate has preferred to deploy two more defensive-minded midfielders in the past - but his squad is without longstanding options in those areas in Henderson and Phillips.

Manchester United's exciting teenager Kobbie Mainoo, Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher or Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold look like the likeliest to partner Declan Rice behind Bellingham in the advanced role.

"Clearly the profile of our midfield, for example, looks different and so the team will evolve because of that," Southgate said.

The danger is that England could be exposed without a more disciplined figure in the guise of Henderson or Phillips alongside Rice. With a defense that has doubts over it because of injuries to key players Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, Southgate will think carefully about the shield he puts in front of it.

The strongest defensive units tend to go far in tournament soccer and England's route to being runner-up in 2021 was built on the foundation of conceding just two goals in the entire competition. The winner, Italy, conceded four.

The challenge, as ever, is to get the balance right, and while Southgate has twice come close to lifting a trophy, his team has lacked that extra ingredient to get over the line.

With a forward line full of match winners at some of the biggest clubs in Europe, England looks equipped with players capable of providing the cutting edge in those decisive moments that tournament soccer produces.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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