After all of the build-up and the excitement, the time has finally arrived: Euro 2016 kicks off on Friday night as hosts France welcome Romania to their legendary Stade de France.
But for many England fans the real business starts on Saturday evening, when their men take on Russia in their opening exchange.
Given the exciting new faces in the squad who will be playing their first game in a major international tournament, and the generosity of their draw, many are tipping the Three Lions to go deep into the tournament; with even the semi-finals mentioned in some dispatches.
But given how England have fared in major tournaments in recent times, are those expectations realistic or another example of an English sporting pipedream?
You would argue that England’s run at the last European Championship was something of a template for their misery down the years.
A comfortable enough passage through the group stage, despite a Zlatan Ibrahimovic wonder goal in the 3-2 win over Sweden, the Three Lions’ fragility in knockout matches once again reared its head. Following 120 minutes of goalless quarter final action against Italy, Ashleys Young and Cole missed their penalties as – not for the first time – England bowed out of a major tournament in a heart-breaking shootout.
The Italians went on to lose in the final, while the recriminations on UK soil concluded that England were simply not good enough on this occasion.
If you are struggling to rack your brains as to how England fared at Euro 2008….well, that’s because they didn’t even qualify!
You may have faint memories of that doomed qualification campaign however; a draw with Macedonia at home, a loss in Russia and home and away defeats to Croatia condemned that particular England squad to the scrapheap and Steve McClaren to the job centre.
For Euro 2004 read Euro 2012. Okay, so progression wasn’t quite as straightforward – England lost to France in the group phase – but subsequent wins over Switzerland and Croatia secured a spot in the quarter finals.
There they met Portugal and, yes you’ve guessed it, lost on penalties after Darius Vassell fluffed his spot kick. So close, but yet so far, for England once again.
Oh, what an embarrassment. England, drawn in a tough but workable group with Germany, Portugal and Romania, capitulated under the strain, with the 2-3 loss to Romania amongst the most embarrassing in the country’s history. They finished third in their group and failed to reach the knockout phase.
This was the tournament responsible for subsequent English false hope. The Three Lions weren’t given much hope of success on home soil, particularly after a stodgy 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening match.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. In front of a packed Wembley Stadium, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne showcased just how good he could be with a wonder goal against Scotland; condemning the auld enemy to a 2-0 defeat.
From there England kicked on, hammering Holland 4-1, beating Spain on penalties before running into Germany in the semi-finals. We could talk about what might have been there – Gazza’s near miss from a Darren Anderton cross, Gareth Southgate’s missed penalty – but to cut a long story short Terry Venables’ side ultimately lost to the Germans in a shootout.
So, Euro 2016?
We can never predict how England are going to fare in knockout competition, but if the last five tournaments are anything to go by then we are in for disappointment.
Two quarter final defeats on penalties, and one embarrassing defeat to Romania. Who are England’s probable opponents in the last eight this year? Yep, you guessed it, those pesky Romanians. Buckle your seatbelts, we could be in for a bumpy ride….