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England’s Euro 2020 triumph just became inevitable — thanks to the public health authorities

·3 min read
Dynamic duo Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling (Getty Images)
Dynamic duo Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling (Getty Images)

Henry VIII falls off a horse during a joust and a shocked Anne Boleyn miscarries a baby boy.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s driver turns down the wrong Sarajevo side street, into the path of a Serbian nationalist with a gun.

A drunk MP called Eric Joyce headbutts a Tory in the Strangers’ Bar in Westminster, triggering the Falkirk by-election.

Mason Mount lingers two minutes too long in conversation with Chelsea teammate Billy Gilmour in the Wembley tunnel and is instructed to self-isolate by Public Health England.

These are the freak potholes that derail the wheels of history, send it stuttering to KwikFit, where it must pay a terrible price before it can start out again on a fresh course. The reformation, the First World War, the Second World War, Corbyn, Brexit – none of these things were inevitable. And neither was England’s Euro 2020 triumph – until now.

Who would have thought that it would be a much-maligned quango operating inside the Department of Health that would drive England on to major tournament glory as it now surely has done? Who could have known it would be their stubborn close-contact protocols that would force Mason Mount from the starting line-up and at last unlock England’s attacking potential?

If England spent most of Tuesday afternoon wondering how it can possibly be that the only two people deemed to have been in close contact with Billy Gilmour on Friday night were two members of the England team, one of whom didn’t even play, it’s fair to say England had stopped worrying about it shortly after kick-off. And England certainly isn’t worrying about it now.

Let’s not linger too long on it having taken direct state intervention for Gareth Southgate finally to start Jack Grealish. Let us linger only on the sultry touches, that exquisite chip, the soft, shunted passes that seem to bend space and time around whomever might be fortunate enough to receive them. And besides, chucking Bukayo Saka in the mix was down to Gareth and Gareth alone, and no one can say that didn’t work either.

He has conspired to land himself in that most unfortunate of positions, however. England, yet again, expects. Though it should know better.

Expecting has cost it before. Scotland, by the same token, should know better than to hope, which it did for an agonising half hour or so, just after Conor McGregor scored a goal for it in a major tournament, an event that comes around with the same metronomic regularity as the Kumbh Mela and Halley’s comet.

But let’s not expect too much, for now. Let us first drink in the splendour of an edgy 1-0 victory in a glorified dead rubber contest against the Czech Republic delivered by an attack that has finally found a faint touch of spark.

What England actually expects is, as ever, unclear. One thing England has no choice but to expect, as it is a matter of certainty, is a match at Wembley on Tuesday in which at least some of the following names will certainly appear: Ngolo Kante, Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos, Ruben Dias, Karim Benzema. So perhaps it really shouldn’t expect too much for now – but that’s never, ever, stopped it before.

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