But the course of tournament life rarely runs smoothly on the Three Lions rollercoaster.
If England played sunshine football against Croatia, they drizzled in the rain on Friday. Both games were cheered to the rafters but Friday’s only by Scottish fans; the English booed.
Concerns and doubts are growing. Harry Kane’s form is a worry not least – despite the presence of Sheffielder Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the background – because the captain is the hardest player to replace after goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, and he is a definte starter on Tuesday insists Gareth Southgate.
But the problems lie deeper and are so frustrating because they are the opposite difficulties one might reasonably fear.
England’s defensive leader – Harry Maguire, another from Sheffield – has not played since May 9 and Scotland unsportingly ruined Southgate’s public plan for his return by playing so well the manager could not risk bringing him off the bench. Centre-back Tyrone Mings also takes a share of the blame, being one of three England players to emerge from the 0-0 draw with real credit making it even tougher.
Before an injury in the Spring, Pickford was having a ropey club season and his two deputies earmarked for this tournament have been ruled out by injury. But Pickford has regained form and confidence without – critically with him – overdosing on the latter. He commanded his area well at Wembley and made the save Kieran Tierney demanded.
With Mings’s Barnsley-born partner John Stones England’s star performer – though Tierney, full debutant Billy Gilmour and Andy Robertson were ahead in the man-of-the-match queue – England are yet to concede in their four post-season matches, even after replacing Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier with full-backs, Reece James and Luke Shaw, who offer less defensively in return for more going forward.
England had goals coming out of their ears in qualifying but since football’s 2020 lockdown have posed nothing like the threat a team with the flair of Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford (plus Friday’s unused Jadon Sancho) ought to.
Stones headed against the post at a corner but former Hull City goalkeeper David Marshall only had to make one save, from Mount, whereas James looked after Pickford by heading a Lyndon Dykes volley away. Pandemic England play with caution, a slow tempo and a lack of spark that meant so long as Scotland organised well, they had enough ability to keep England at bay. World stars should struggle to contain England’s exciting attackers but with Liam Cooper omitted, the visiting back three had only one Premier League defender – Tierney – alongside top-flight midfielder Scott McTominay and Grant Hanley, in the Championship last season.
Epitomising the sluggishness was Kane, again substituted after a disappointing evening of just 19 touches. A month ago he won the Premier League golden boot excelling for a decent rather than brilliant Tottenham Hotspur.
Is he worn out after carrying a team on his back through an unrelenting schedule or does he need more game-time to rediscover rhythm?
Whatever he needs will have to come second to the requirements of the team now. Forget tables, England need to sign off Group D with a performance that sees them stride into the last 16 confidently, not limp over the line.
Players cannot be rested now, though they can be dropped.
History tends to overlook that England have never reached a major semi-final without a poor performance – few countries have. Finishing third in their group did not stop Portugal winning the last European Championship, and second offers a more favourable draw than first.
But the context of Friday’s draw is still to be decided. Convincingly beat the Czechs and it becomes the blip in an otherwise impressive group. Labour again and we will be counting the shots on target – three in the first two matches – and asking more urgently why a team with so many attacking threats on paper have so few on grass.