Neil Humphreys: It’s not coming home, England
As Euro 2020 prepares to kick off, our columnist refuses to get lost in the Three Lions hype and backs the functional French to prevail
Football is not coming home. Wembley won't host the hosts in the Euro 2020 final. England will forever be England and fall short.
Not for the first time, romanticism is allowing hype to obscure history.
Home advantage benefited Sir Alf Ramsey's World Cup winners in 1966 and Terry Venables' semi-finalists at Euro 1996, to a lesser extent, but the circumstances are different now.
Gareth Southgate has two notable weaknesses - or injury concerns, at least - in the two most critical areas of the modern game. Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson are not match fit.
The Three Lions are vulnerable at centre-back and especially in defensive midfield, the much-heralded pivot. Trophy winners never leave home without them.
A clear tactical evolution has taken place in the last decade or so, perhaps divided by those dominant Spaniards and their tiki-taka between 2008-2012.
Endless possession filled with short passing morphed into something more explosive and certainly more aesthetic - the calculated gegenpressing or the concentrated counter-attacking.
But the centre must hold for it to work.
The midfield pivot has to complete the defensive triangle with his centre-backs to protect the space left behind by scurrying wing-backs.
And yet, Henderson remains rusty. Maguire still carries a knock. John Stones is a Rolls Royce with an engine that occasionally stalls. In a bitter irony, England's lauded strength in depth doesn't extend to these areas.
Such positions are where international trophies are generally won and lost. France prevailed at Russia 2018 with N'Golo Kante babysitting an erratic backline. In recent months, his mythical third lung seems to have switched itself on again.
Unlike the English, Didier Deschamps' consistent, functional approach has taken Les Bleus to consecutive major finals in the Euros and World Cup, relying on his defensive centre to hold.
Cristiano Ronaldo's injury stole the headlines after Portugal's unexpected triumph in the Euro 2016 final, but William Carvalho stole the show.
His stellar performance as a holding midfielder sustained Portugal's resistance in Ronaldo's absence. At the heart of a 4-1-3-2, Carvalho kept the French at bay.
International tournaments are generally won this way, irrespective of any perceived home advantages - a vociferous full house in Paris couldn't blow down the Portuguese rearguard.
And this reality is England's irony. Like bringing a knife to a gunfight, they've brought attackers to a defensive showdown. An abundance of nifty, incisive mavericks evoke memories of Spain's tiki-taka philosophy, which fell out of fashion after 2012.
At Euro 2020, the pivot will be, well, pivotal.
Germany have Joshua Kimmich (and Toni Kroos and even Ilkay Guendogan if necessary). Portugal's defensive triangle includes Ruben Dias and Danilo Pereira. The French have that Chelsea freak with the three lungs.
England are a tad deficient in these areas and yet likely will play one of the above in the round of 16, if the Three Lions top Group D. Should they finish second, Spain or Poland could lie in wait.
Unlike the red carpet laid out all the way to the semi-final at Russia 2018, the Euro 2020 path is perilous.
Henderson needs to be back to his imperious best or the tournament promises to be an intense baptism of fire for the less-experienced Declan Rice.
Southgate has a wonderful array of creative resources in arguably the wrong places. He lacks cover at the back. A cacophonous Wembley can fill the gaps inside the stands, but not those in England's defensive spine.
A case could be made for the Three Lions having the most dynamic and exciting group of youthful performers, but France, Germany and Portugal all boast better defensive balance and tournament pedigree.
In the history of the Euros, England have prevailed in just one knockout game. At home. On penalties. There's a psychological gap that needs minding, too.
Winning isn't an issue for France. It's commonplace now, a way of life. The line-up that reached the World Cup final is boosted by a resurgent Kante.
The Three Lions have Harry Kane, certainly, but Les Bleus have Kylian Mbappe.
England have the affable, popular Southgate. France have a methodical, serial winner in Deschamps.
In a fun game of one-upmanship, it's not really that close.
Hype and home advantage will only get England so far, before those defensive frailties are exposed.
Football could still be coming home, as long as the lyrics are sung in French.