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Football’s coming home…hopefully

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Historically, at this stage of a tournament, England football fans are usually drowning their sorrows in what might have been, as the Three Lions disappoint again.

But manager Gareth Southgate has created a new hybrid; a durable, confident team that sometimes wins a penalty shootout.

The nation has fallen in love with the England team after years of criminal underachievement and embarrassment on and off the pitch.

This is a different squad, young, talented, gifted players infused with a winning DNA that refuses to surrender.

Gareth pinned his credentials to the wall with a magnificent World Cup in Russia, where England was knocked out by Croatia in the semi-final after taking an early lead.

Belgium then denied them third place.

Some critics would argue that England came up short when confronted with top-quality opposition.

England had an easy qualifying group to reach Euro2020, delayed a year due to the pandemic.

Again, this offered another platform for new England to shine in front of a home crowd at Wembley – although its capacity reduced by COVID.

As most England fans are constantly reminded, the men’s football team hasn’t won a major trophy since the World Cup in 1966 – 55 years of hurt and still counting.

But the dream remains.

And the fire still burns inside every England supporter that new names will accompany the immortals of Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton.

The heartache of 1990 and 1996 is still palpable (depending on how old you are), Gazza tears, Southgate’s penalty miss.

At the 1990 World Cup and Euro96, England went out to the Germans on penalties – teams good enough to win both tournaments were betrayed by Lady Luck.

The manager Southgate still lives with the scars of 96 (don’t we all) but expelled his demons in a rousing victory against the Germans earlier in the week.

England struck twice late on to end a 55-year wait for a knockout tie victory over Germany amid scenes of delight to reach the Euro2020 quarter-finals against unfancied Ukraine.

Beating a top nation – although some would say it’s a Germany in decline – has given England confidence and belief for the business end of the tournament.

Fans have also started to believe the stars are aligned for a very good England to become the champions of Europe for the first time.

If England gets past Ukraine in Rome on Saturday, it’s back to Wembley in front of 60,000 home supporters.

There can be no greater incentive to bring it home than a semi-final and final at Wembley.

If England defeats Ukraine, it will be Denmark – another feel-good story — or the Czechs to confront in the last four.

Anything is possible in a tournament of shocks.

Moreover, Southgate has proven to be a shrewd tactician, changing formation and line-up to suit the opposition, despite the court of public opinion.

Success has been built on a water-tight defence that has kept four clean sheets in as many games – with Pickford, Maguire, Walker and Stones proving impenetrable.

Despite the drab draw against Scotland, the manager has got selections and tactics spot on.

After the Germany game, this is the first time England have put together a semi-final and a quarter-final at consecutive major finals since 1966 and 1970, and their experience at the 2018 World Cup can only give them confidence for the tests to come.

They are only the second side in European Championship history not to concede in their first four games, after Germany in 2016.

The last time England did so at a major tournament was – you guessed it — the 1966 World Cup.

Now England captain Harry Kane has got his scoring boots on, getting the second against Germany; hope burns eternal.

If England are to win, Kane – the top scorer in Russia – needs to find the back of the net.

Special mention must also be given to Raheem Sterling, the most consistent and effective player in the team.

Out of form for his club side Manchester City, there were calls for him to be dropped, but Southgate trusted his quality and his three goals had propelled England forward.

There are still obstacles to overcome and unknown unknowns ready to block the path to the final.

A red card, missed penalty, mistake, bad refereeing decision can all change the course of history, especially where England is concerned.

For now, the dream is alive, a nation expects, and England needs to deliver on the pitch with the country roaring on the Three Lions.

Millions will be cheering the team on.

Say it quietly…it’s coming home…Football’s coming home.