by Kieran CANNING
Halfway through qualifying for Euro 2020, England’s place at next year’s finals already appears assured thanks to a prolific forward line that has plundered 19 goals in just four qualifiers.
The Three Lions will be confident of maintaining their 100 percent record in qualifying when they visit the Czech Republic on Friday and can even mathematically secure qualification by the time they travel to Bulgaria four days later.
At 26 and 24, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are the older heads of a thrilling forward line that threatens to be the envy of Europe next summer.
Kane and Sterling have each scored six times in four qualifiers so far.
But unlike many major tournaments that ended in disappointment over the past two decades when England relied on one source of goals from the likes of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, Gareth Southgate has a wealth of options to choose from.
Jadon Sancho, 19, scored his first two international goals in the 5-3 victory over Kosovo last month and has edged ahead of Marcus Rashford as the prime candidate to join Sterling and Kane in a front three.
Rashford has struggled for fitness and form in a Manchester United side devoid of creativity, but is still just 21 and has plenty of time to make his case to start at the Euros.
Between them Kane, Sterling and Rashford have 19 goals in the first two months of the Premier League season, but none of them are even the top-scoring Englishman in the Premier League.
– Electric start –
Tammy Abraham’s electric start to life back at Chelsea after a series of loan spells has earned him an England recall with eight goals in as many league games.
However, Abraham faces the thankless task of trying to usurp Kane to be England’s number nine.
“For me, he’s the greatest striker in the world,” Abraham, 22, told the Evening Standard.
“When you look at Harry Kane, if he gets a chance in the box, nine times out of 10, it’s a goal. So I’ll go there learn off him and hopefully be like him.”
The competition just to make Southgate’s squad next summer is just as fierce in the areas out wide and just behind the striker.
Callum Hudson-Odoi is not involved for the trips to Prague and Sofia having only recently returned from a long-term Achilles injury, but the 18-year-old has impressed on his comeback for Chelsea.
In midfield, another promising product of the Chelsea academy, Mason Mount has overtaken his international teammate Ross Barkley at club level to break into the England senior squad.
James Maddison’s wait for a first cap has been prolonged by an illness that forced him to withdraw from the squad on Thursday morning.
– Firepower –
However, his time will come as one of the stars of Leicester’s early rise to challengers for a Champions League place in the Premier League this season.
Four more qualifiers over the next two months with little on the line just as the Premier League season is getting up to speed may signal a lull for supporters.
But for Southgate there are precious few opportunities left to mould the right 23-man squad that despite their tender age will have great expectations placed on their shoulders next summer.
England have fallen short at the semi-finals of the World Cup and Nations League over the past year.
Now blessed with such firepower and home advantage for the majority of Euro 2020 should they go all the way, the demands are higher.
© Agence France-Presse