10th May 2016.
By virtually all accounts, the England national football team have a better chance at winning a European Championship title this year than they ever have before. Not only did the Three Lions sail through the qualifying rounds with a perfect record of 10 victories, but England also beat reigning World Cup champions Germany in a friendly fixture in late March. Add the fact that England has a considerable amount of soccer talent right now-with several sure-to-be-included players, such as Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, peaking at the perfect time-and there's a definite possibility that the country's long international title drought could come to an end this summer.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Just about a month remains until the Three Lions take the pitch in France for their first Euro 2016 fixture. Manager Roy Hodgson and his 23-man squad-whatever that ends up looking like-still have plenty of preparation to cycle through before they can think about topping the podium. Below, we've outlined some of the key dates of England's preparation cycle-as well as what the Three Lions are going to need to do if they want to snatch a European Championship title at last.
The Key Dates
May 12: Roy Hodgson will officially announce his 23-man squad on the 12th of May. On one hand, it's surprising that the announcement is coming so early since the UEFA doesn't require participating Euro 2016 teams to submit their lineups until May 31. By announcing early, though, Hodgson will give his soccer squad a solid month of preparation before they have to go to work in France. It's possible that Hodgson's 23-man lineup will include a few standbys or caveats at this point, especially given the injuries that have affected some of England's top players lately. Still, expect England's Euro lineup to be more or less set in stone on this date.
May 15: The 2015/16 Premier League season officially draws to a close. The winner of the league is crowned and any jockeying for individual player awards or European tournament qualifying slots ends. With the distraction of the domestic league out of the way, Hodgson will likely give his men a couple of days of rest before the Three Lions start training in earnest for Euro 2016.
May 22: 10 days after Hodgson names his 23-man football squad, England will play their third friendly of the year, taking on Turkey. The Turkish national football team qualified for Euro 2016 by being the top-ranked third-place team out of all the qualifying groups. Turkey will be playing at their first European Championship since 2008 when they made it to the semi-finals for a surprising third-place finish. Despite Turkey's 2008 success, though, the team shouldn't pose much of a threat to England. Rather, Turkey will act as a good first test for the Three Lions and will provide a gauge for how much Hodgson and his 23-man squad need to refine their approach before June.
May 27: The fourth friendly of the year will pit England against Australia. The game's close proximity to the Turkey friendly will give Hodgson a chance to rejigger his lineup and on-field approach if, for instance, he isn't sure how to arrange his offensive line. As the last contest on the schedule prior to UEFA's May 31 squad deadline date, this friendly will also be Hodgson's last chance to swap in substitutes, should part of his 23-man squad not be working out as planned.
May 31: The UEFA's squad confirmation deadline for Euro 2016. If Hodgson has any difficult calls to make concerning injuries or substitutes, this date will be his last chance to make them. Once the calendar turns to June, England's 23-man squad really will be set in stone.
June 2: England's last friendly before the commencement of European Championship will pit the soccer team against Portugal. As a fellow qualifying round group winner, Portugal provide a tougher challenge than Turkey or Australia-good news, since England will have to be playing at a higher level by June. A match against Portugal might also be a good chance for the Three Lions to test their defense. Widely flagged as the weak point of an otherwise strong team, England's defense could be their undoing at Euro 2016. If England can keep Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scoreless in this friendly fixture, though, that would be a good sign that they are ready for the challenges of the European Championship.
The 2016 European Championship will officially commence on Friday, June 10, with a Group A fixture between hosts France and their opponents, Romania. The next day, almost exactly a month after Hodgson names his Euro 2016 squad, England will begin their tournament campaign with a match against Russia.
Some pundits say that England's 10-win run in the Euro 2016 qualifiers doesn't mean much for the team's chances in the final tournament. After all, the Three Lions had pretty easy opponents in the qualifying rounds, facing a group that included Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, and San Marino.
However, even if England's perfect qualifier run doesn't necessarily show a team that's ready to dominate the likes of Germany and Spain on the international field, it's still helped them by providing an easier group stage draw. Based on coefficient rankings, the Three Lions are seeded third in Euro 2016, behind Germany and two-time reigning champions Spain.
That flattering seeding puts England in Group B with no huge hurdles in the way. The group's other teams-Russia, Wales, and Slovakia-each won six or seven games in the qualifiers. Barring some complete disaster in the group stage, England shouldn't have much problem earning advancement to the knockout stage. After that, it's tough to make many concrete predictions.
For the record, England will face Russia on June 11, Wales on June 16, and Slovakia on June 20.
The dates listed above illustrate England's path to Euro 2016-and likely, to the round of 16. However, simple calendar dates don't illustrate the extent of the English national team's European Championship preparations. On the contrary, most of the team's prep will take place behind closed doors in training sessions or locker rooms. Those moments could all serve to make or break England's Euro 2016 chances.
Perhaps the most important thing for England at this point-and the most challenging-will be determining the right training regimen. On one hand, Hodgson will have to figure out a way to turn his 23-man squad into a cohesive team instead of just a collection of talented stars.
Following the retirement of several legendary players, England's lineup will look quite a bit different at the 2016 European Championship than it did at the 2014 World Cup. At least a few of England's most important players-starting with the aforementioned Kane and Vardy-will be playing in their first major international tournament as part of the English national team. It's Hodgson's job to get them ready for the challenge without sacrificing what has made both of them (and the rest of the lineup, for that matter) so much fun to watch in the Premier League this season.
On the other hand, though, Hodgson is going to have to strategize rest and recovery for his players. Key talents like Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, and Daniel Sturridge have weathered significant injuries recently, to the point where some soccer pundits have questioned whether or not they would be fit in time for Euro 2016.
In addition, more than a few think pieces have been written this year detailing the busy and exhausting schedules that English football teams maintain, and what all that extra play time can do to the country's international efforts. In particular, with such a busy play schedule around the holiday season, summertime is really the only rest time that English players typically get. Hodgson will have to give his team some recovery time while simultaneously preparing them for the hefty challenges awaiting in France-no easy task.
Lastly, England national team players will have to focus on not getting carried away on the hype train. Once again, after the Three Lions dominated their qualifying group, hopes are high that England will finally bring home a European Championship title. Thinking about those expectations will only put pressure on England's star players, which means that mental attitude is going to be almost as important for England's Euro prep as physical fitness.
Can England win Euro 2016? Will Germany pair their World Cup trophy with a European one? Or will Spain bounce back from a major World Cup disappointment to win a third straight Euro trophy? Tune in on June 10 to be a part of the action.
England's Euro 2016 Prep: Key Dates International Competition
10th May 2016.