These are the days England managers can live or die by. Gareth Southgate has whittled his England squad down to the 26 players he believes can win the European Championship this summer.
The nation was brought to a standstill three years ago as the Three Lions captured the hearts of millions in their run to the World Cup semi-final.
And England fever could take hold once again in the weeks ahead, lifting more than a year of Covid-entrapped gloom.
July 11 is the date you need to circle in your calendar. If all goes to plan, England will be playing in the final at Wembley.
We’re still a long way off that but the bookies have Southgate’s talented group second favourites behind the French so they have a brilliant chance to make history.
Now we know which 26 players will be looking etch their names in English folklore, it’s time to meet them…
Gareth Southgate has named the 26 players he is taking to the European Championship
England have huge talent at their disposal and a real chance of winning the tournament
Dean Henderson (Manchester United)
Age – 24
Caps – 1
The goalkeeper position is very much up for grabs. Southgate has been loyal, arguably to a fault with Jordan Pickford, who performed so well for England at the World Cup in Russia.
But Henderson could well be the man to usurp him. The Manchester United stopper has come in and challenged long-time No 1 David de Gea for his club, although neither seemed to fully nail down their spot as first choice by the end of the season.
Henderson has plenty of swagger, bags of confidence in his own ability and unquestionable talent. Whether Southgate will take the risk of throwing him in at the deep end with only one England cap to his name remains to be seen.
Dean Henderson (pictured) could usurp Jordan Pickford and be England’s No 1 goalkeeper
Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Age – 27
Caps – 30
Pickford’s stock has never been as high as in Russia back in 2018 and frankly, has not reached anywhere near those levels since.
There have been a string of high-profile mistakes for Everton and where he once looked assured, the errors looked to have badly damaged his confidence.
At one point, club manager Carlo Ancelotti even replaced his No 1 with Robin Olsen to take him out of the firing line.
Pickford’s form stabilised as the campaign wore on and he revealed making great strides after working with a sports psychologist. He has plenty of credit in the bank with Southgate but will it be enough to start?
The Everton stopper improved his form but made calamitous mistakes earlier this season
Sam Johnstone (West Brom)
Age – 28
It would be a turn up for the books if Johnstone manages to leapfrog his two rivals for the No 1 shirt.
He was incredibly busy in goal for relegated West Brom this season so it is some testament to him that he still stood out despite conceding 70 goals and keeping just six clean sheets.
Johnstone would have to seriously impress in training to be thrown in against Croatia on June 13 in the opening game but stranger things have happened.
Sam Johnstone will be the third choice keeper and is unlikely to be given any game time
Ben Chilwell (Chelsea)
Age – 24
Caps – 14
Chilwell will strut into the European Championships feeling about a foot taller.
The Chelsea left-back was one of the best players on the pitch in the Champions League final win over Manchester City and has found a perfect home with the Blues.
Since leaving Leicester for £45million last summer, he’s more than justified the fee by consistently being among the club’s best performers.
His battle with Luke Shaw for the starting berth will be hotly contested and one of Southgate’s toughest decisions.
Ben Chilwell is fresh from his Champions League triumph with Chelsea and full of confidence
Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
Age – 25
Caps – 8
It feels as though Shaw has been around forever but at 25 and after enjoying his best season yet, now could be his time to shine.
If he wins the aforementioned battle with Chilwell to start at left-back, it will complete a remarkable turnaround.
After Shaw signed for Manchester United, he was pilloried publicly by Jose Mourinho on a number of occasions. Some pundits even went as far as to call it bullying and there were real question marks over the defender’s weight.
But with a more caring approach taken by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Shaw has blossomed into a key performer and offers plenty to the team in attack as well as his defensive duties.
Luke Shaw is fully deserving of his place in the line-up after a stellar season at Old Trafford
Harry Maguire (Manchester United)
Age – 28
Caps – 32
Maguire became a cult hero at the World Cup and the nickname ‘Slabhead’, affectionately bestowed upon him by Jamie Vardy, caught on.
That moniker just about sums up the uncompromising style of Manchester United’s captain, who was sorely missed by his side while injured in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Southgate will be desperate for Maguire to return to full fitness and he’s nursing an ankle injury. He isn’t the most dynamic player in the world so any sign that the offending limb is struggling could see him ruled out.
Harry Maguire is recovering from injury and England will be desperate for him to be fit
Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa)
Age – 28
Caps – 8
Mings will be one of the more physically imposing players at the tournament.
Standing at 6ft 5in and with the ability to cover ground quickly, he’s a great option for Southgate to have in the heart of defence.
Mings is relatively inexperienced on the international stage but has been crucial for his club, even if he is capable of the occasional mistake. He has performed well for England when given the chance and could enhance his reputation with a stellar showing this summer.
Tyrone Mings has been impressive for Aston Villa and will try to force his way into the side
John Stones (Manchester City)
Age – 27
Caps – 42
Stones was heralded as one of the best ball-playing defenders in world football when he moved to Manchester City from Everton for £47million back in 2016.
And despite his obvious talent, there was too often a frailty about him that made it seem as though he’d never quite live up to the potential.
But to his credit, rather than leave City, he decided to stay and fight for his place, despite the wealth of options at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. And this season has been his best ever, becoming a mainstay at the back for the English champions.
Having experienced the heartache of losing the Champions League final, Stones will be champing at the bit to get back out there in and England shirt and win a first major trophy for the country since 1966.
John Stones enjoyed his most impressive campaign to date for the English champions
Reece James (Chelsea)
Age – 21
Caps – 6
The James family are a talented bunch. Reece’s sister, Lauren, plays for Manchester United Women and they are both prodigious young talents.
Chelsea’s left-back was a brick wall in the Champions League final against fellow England star Raheem Sterling and he is already a solid and dependable presence at the back.
His one-on-one ability could be crucial against some of Europe’s most dangerous wingers this summer and at the other end of the pitch, James’ crossing ability is David Beckham-esque and will be a huge weapon.
Reece James is a rock at the back and full of confidence after an outstanding season
Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Age – 31
Caps – 55
Walker is one of the more experienced heads in the squad. Usually with age comes a slight deterioration of pace but not with England’s flying right-back.
He is ultra professional and will be among the fastest players at the Euros. It will be a real battle between him and James for the right-back berth but the games come thick and fast so no doubt both will have their time to shine.
When it comes to he business end of the tournament, if England are still around, a calm head on experienced shoulders will be invaluable.
Walker came through the dreadful PR of breaking lockdown rules last year so have one of his best seasons and fully deserves his spot.
Kyle Walker is the oldest player in the England squad but keeps himself in great condition
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Age – 22
Caps – 12
How many sleepless nights did Southgate have about this selection?
There were rumblings that the immensely talented Liverpool right-back could miss out but ultimately, his late-season form proved decisive and the 22-year-old has made the cut.
Alexander-Arnold has been tipped by many to star in midfield in the future and with so many right-backs at the manager’s disposal, it will be fascinating to see where he is deployed.
His main strengths are his range of passing and creative quality but there have been question marks over his defending in the past. He’ll be desperate to prove the naysayers wrong on the big stage and justify his selection.
Trent Alexander-Arnold made the cut when for a while it looked as though he would not make it
Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid)
Age – 30
Caps – 26
Trippier gave many England fans the best moment of their lives when he bent in a free-kick to take the lead over Croatia in the World Cup semi-final.
He’s since left Tottenham and rediscovered his best form in LaLiga, helping Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid to the title this season.
Yet another right back to have made the cut – where is Southgate going to fit them all?!
Kieran Trippier has been rewarded for his superb season with Atletico Madrid in Spain
Conor Coady (Wolves)
Age – 28
Caps – 4
The vocal defender is a hugely popular man about the squad and even scored an extremely rare goal in a victory over Wales.
He is unlikely to start but if any of the central defenders pick up an injury, he’ll fancy his chances of being drafted in.
Coady is an organiser on the pitch, always barking instructions and would relish the chance to perform on the biggest stage. The 28-year-old is a fan favourite and England supporters will be desperate for him to do well.
Conor Coady made the cut ahead of Ben White and Ben Godfrey in the final selection
Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund)
Age – 17
Caps – 2
When most people think back to what they were doing in the summer of their 17th year, it wasn’t this.
Bellingham is one of the most exciting teenage talents the country has produced and his reputation is such that his boyhood club even retired his shirt number from use when he left to join Borussia Dortmund last year.
In Germany, despite all the challenges of fitting in as a youngster to a new culture, with a different language, he’s done his talking on the pitch.
Bellingham scored a cracker for his side in the Champions League against Manchester City and seems to balloon in confidence with every passing week. Whether or not he starts for England is another thing but the future is seriously bright for this wonderkid.
Jude Bellingham is still a baby in footballing terms but his rich talent is obvious to all
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Age – 30
Caps – 58
Any trophy-winning team needs a Jordan Henderson at their heart. The Liverpool captain is brimming with passion, commitment and his quality is underrated too.
Sir Alex Ferguson once turned down the chance to sign him because he didn’t like midfielder’s running technique but he’s gone on to become a magnificent player and leader for club and country.
As with Maguire, Henderson has been coming back from injury so will not be match fit but the 30-year-old is likely to play a major part this summer.
He perhaps lacks the guile of other midfield options but for steel, backbone and good old fashioned winning mentality, look no further.
Jordan Henderson is another who Gareth Southgate is hoping can return to full fitness
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Age – 22
Caps – 16
Mount steps onto the pitch and plays as though he hasn’t got a care in the world.
For some reason, it has taken a while for the youngster to be given the credit he deserves but there’s no doubting his immense talent and crucially, ability to pop up with big goals.
Tournament football can be so tight, hard-fought and be decided with one moment of genius. It would be no surprise whatsoever to see Mount deliver when it matters, as he has done for Chelsea this season.
For someone still in the infancy of their career, he is remarkably mature and a hugely likeable interviewee. There’s plenty of competition for places in his position but leaving him out would be a brave call.
Mason Mount has been underrated for some time but there is no disputing his ability
Kalvin Phillips (Leeds)
Age – 25
Caps – 7
Phillips typifies everything great about the resurgent Leeds team of the past couple of years.
He is at the root of their swashbuckling play and so at ease on the ball. How often have England fans lamented the fact that European and South American players are more accomplished in possession?
That is no longer an excuse we can make and Phillips is a well-rounded midfielder, able to work hard defensively and contribute in transition. It seems unlikely he’ll start for England but any injuries could open the door.
Kalvin Phillips is the heartbeat of his Leeds side and will want to be the same for England
Declan Rice (West Ham)
Age – 22
Caps – 15
The jewel in West Ham’s crown, Rice has enhanced his reputation as one of the countries best young players this season and was the engine in his club’s drive to European qualification.
Thank goodness he opted to turn down the Republic of Ireland to pledge his allegiance to England.
Southgate’s side will reap the rewards of that decision for years to come. Rice is likely to be used as a defensive shield for those at the back and will have his work cut out, especially against the big sides.
If England are to go all the way, it’s likely that Rice will have had a major say.
Declan Rice spearheaded West Ham’s assault on Europe and has been rewarded for fine form
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)
Age – 24
Caps – 7
Four goals in seven games for England is a pretty handy return for the man who will play second fiddle to Harry Kane this summer.
There’s no doubting the Spurs man will have his eyes set on another Golden Boot but Southgate has Calvert-Lewin tucked up his sleeve as a ‘Plan B’ option.
The Everton striker is exceptional in the air, leaps like the proverbial salmon and started the season on fire.
He notched 19 goals for the Toffees and could relish a role coming off the bench when England are desperate to find a breakthrough.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is unlikely to start for England but is a great option off the bench
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Age – 21
Caps – 6
Disgraced himself when first called up to the squad in Iceland after he and Mason Greenwood were found to have broken Covid protocol by inviting two women up to their hotel room.
But that small incident will be a footnote in Foden’s career when all is said and done. Pep Guardiola described the silky midfielder as the most naturally gifted player he’s ever seen at Foden’s age – that’s high praise from someone who has worked with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
Forget potential, Foden is already an integral part of that City team and has everything it takes to light up the Euros for England too.
Phil Foden has bags of ability but it remains to be seen where Southgate will play him
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
Age – 25
Caps – 5
Southgate resisted the urge to call-up Grealish for a while despite growing clamour from fans.
But the England boss has since been so impressed by the versatile attacker’s displays that he compared him with Paul Gascoigne.
A Gazza-like tournament would be very welcome indeed but Grealish is working his way back from a nasty achilles injury that has kept him out for months. If he can return to anywhere near his best, the 25-year-old might be the squad’s best player at taking on his man.
England have been crying out for ball-playing attacking midfielders for years and suddenly have four at once!
Jack Grealish is a wonderful technician and one of England’s best at attacking players
Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Age – 27
Caps – 53
Kane is determined to break Wayne Rooney’s England goals record (53) and is currently on 34. You’d back the Tottenham striker to bag another handful this summer, even as the storm rages about him declaring a desire to leave boyhood club Tottenham.
England’s talismanic striker is the first name on the team sheet and his fortunes in front of goal will go some way to dictating England’s success this summer… no pressure.
Kane is entering his prime and may never have a better opportunity to do something special with England, especially on home turf so expect big performances from the Premier League’s top marksman.
Harry Kane will have his eyes on the golden boot and has a great chance of winning it
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Age – 24
Caps – 40
To have reached 40 caps before the age of 25 is staggering and although Rashford has not enjoyed his best season on the pitch, he’s become a national hero off it.
The striker, now an MBE, seems to be more electable than most politicians after his incredible work successfully campaigning for free school meals in the past 12 months.
But his bread and butter is on the pitch and Rashford will have to up his game to cement a spot in the starting side. He has a tendency to snatch at some big chances and despite being hampered by a long-term foot injury, has plenty to prove this summer if he is to keep some talented young attackers from taking his spot.
Marcus Rashford has endured a mixed season and will want to be more clinical in front of goal
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
Age – 19
Caps – 4
A shining light in an otherwise miserable season for Arsenal, Saka is a brilliant young player with the world at his feet.
The 19-year-old can play as a flying full-back or on the wing and his versatility will be useful for Southgate.
Again, his role is likely to be from the substitutes bench but if he can translate club performances onto the England training pitch, he could make it difficult for Southgate to leave him out.
Bukayo Saka is the only Arsenal representative in the 26-man England squad
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Age – 21
Caps – 18
Sancho might be the man to inspire the nation’s youngsters this summer. He has a box of tricks to beat defenders and is capable of jaw-dropping moments.
The young Englishman has elevated his game to another level at Dortmund and finished the season in blistering form with seven goals and four assists in his last ten games.
Any opposition full-back seeing Sancho’s name on the team sheet will know they are in for a long day’s work and there will be fierce competition for places in England’s attack so he will know he has to perform to keep his spot if selected.
Jadon Sancho finished the season in blistering form for Borussia Dortmund in Germany
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Age – 26
Caps – 61
It seemed unthinkable a year ago that Sterling would leave Manchester City but that is a real possibility now.
The England winger fell out of favour in the final few weeks of the season before earning a shock start in the Champions League final and he enters the Euros without any form to speak of.
On his day, Sterling can be a game changer and one of the best wingers in world football but Southgate but find a way to drag that out of him again.
Much will depend on how loyal his international manager chooses to be but if Sterling fails to start fast, he’ll find himself on the bench.
Raheem Sterling has not been at his best but can still be an important player for England