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Champions League

Paul Parker: England’s Euro 2020 opener against Croatia at Wembley is “judgement day” for inexperienced side

Lots of England fans are getting excited about the chances of Gareth Southgate’s side having a successful Euro 2020 ahead of Sunday’s game with Croatia – but I think we have to be careful.

After a busy season, condensed because of coronavirus, we don’t know how fit the players really are. This first game is judgement day. Croatia have twice outthought and overwhelmed England in recent times – I’m thinking of the infamous Wally with a Brolly night, when Steve McClaren’s side didn’t qualify for Euro 2008, and then 10 years later in the World Cup semi-finals when we lost in extra-time.

Yes, Croatia have got ageing players but they’ve got incredible experience. You can’t just cover that up by saying how good our players are – because a lot of them are being tested on the international stage for the first time. They’re on trial. We don’t know how good they are yet at this level, because you can’t judge what they’ve done in World Cup qualifiers against lesser teams.

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Can Southgate only pick one of Grealish and Foden?

Having said that, if England beat Croatia and put in a strong performance, that’s when people might rightly be able to get excited, I just have my doubts. When England have gone into big games, and more so if they score the early goal, they sit back and the fear sets in.

They need more belief on Sunday, it depends on the team Gareth picks. I think he’ll be conservative in his selection, and he should be, you have to make sure you get off to a solid start. It’s great to have all this attacking talent but you still need the players around them to help them flourish.

You need someone to pull the reins back and fight for the cause and win the battles. It’s all very well for the managers who sit behind their keyboards to pick all the attacking players, they’ve got nothing to lose – Gareth’s got a lot to lose. He’s got to give himself the best chance of getting the best result, and that isn’t by going gung-ho.

I’ve been impressed with what Gareth’s done in trying to create a club atmosphere, but that doesn’t count for much if they don’t get results. The proof is in the pudding, football’s about proving yourself, you have five minutes in the spotlight, and you need to grab it.

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Rarely has there been so many challengers for the title

I don’t think there’s ever been a major tournament where you can justifiably name so many contenders to win it. If you put all of the squads on paper, France are the best team, they’re the favourites, there’s no doubt about that.

Belgium look great, the Italians are unbeaten in 27 games, the Spanish have a lot of experience but struggle for a consistent goalscorer. Portugal can suffocate teams and have some of the best players in Europe in their team, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes.

It’s a tough ask for England, but this has also been an unpredictable season and a half because of Covid, so maybe we’ll have another shock like in 2004 when Greece won it.

Foden and Mount the key men for England

Phil Foden is being tipped to be a key player for England by Paul Parker

Image credit: Getty Images

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If England are going to have any success at the Euros, they need Phil Foden and Mason Mount to step up. They’re the two who’ve been most consistent for their clubs, and they were both so prominent during their respective runs to the Champions League final.

When Manchester City have needed something, Foden has made such a difference and got them over the line to win the Premier League. If he can get near to those performances for England, that would be huge. That might not happen, because he’s playing with completely different players than he does with his clubs – do they open up the same spaces, play the same passes, finish the same crosses? He’s going to have to adapt at such a young age.

Mount has been Chelsea’s key player, his whole game has moved on another level under Thomas Tuchel. I’ve been really impressed with him, and I expect him to step up for England.

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