Wayne Rooney is spot on - Everton star will be absolutely pivotal to England's chances of Euro 2024 glory

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The Three Lions begin their campaign against Serbia on Sunday evening

Four sleeps. That’s all that separates us from England’s first foray into Euro 2024, a tournament that feels distinctly and frighteningly different because the Three Lions enter the fray in Germany as many people’s outright favourites to win the whole thing. It is, as they say, the hope that kills you.

On paper, Gareth Southgate’s men stand as good a chance as anybody of lifting that fabled trophy on July 14th, and boast a glittering array of attacking talent of which most nations will be ferociously envious. A forward line consisting of Harry Kane, Phli Foden, and Bukayo Saka, with Jude Bellingham floating in behind and Declan Rice anchoring proceedings, feels downright special, and if the Trent Alexander-Arnold midfield experiment yields the results that the Waistcoated One is evidently hoping for then England could prove to be a considerable handful.

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Indeed, in the opinions of many, this is as good an opportunity that England have had of ending their silverware drought in many a year. The likes of Alan Shearer, Micah Richards, and Joe Hart have all expressed their belief that the Three Lions can, and perhaps should, go all the way this summer, and there are plenty who would support those optimistic claims.

Take for instance, Wayne Rooney. Speaking to BBC Sport, the former Manchester United and Everton striker made it clear that he believes Southgate’s squad stand a real chance of bringing football home, so to speak.

‘England have to be looking at winning the competition,’ Rooney said. ‘The last two tournaments they have been close, and they can rely on their experience from there. The likes of Harry Kane and Jordan Pickford can help the players who are new to it all, just to settle them, and that will be key to getting them over the line this time.’

And in particular, Rooney is right to emphasise just how important Pickford will be to England’s fortunes. Because, you see, for all of the attacking talent the Three Lions possess, there are serious questions to be asked of their defence.

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While Kyle Walker feels like a steady and dependable option at right-back, Luke Shaw’s precarious injury status and Kieran Trippier’s relative inexperience on the left flank make for much jitterier reading.

Then, of course, there is the situation in the middle. Harry Maguire’s absence, as maligned as he often is, creates something of a vacuum that will desperately need plugging. John Stones, as sublime as he can be, has not played an awful lot of football in recent months, while Marc Guehi - also coming off the back of an injury, it should be noted - has been thrust into an unexpected position of prominence at a fairly late stage. Beyond that partnership, Lewis Dunk’s inclusion over Jarrad Branthwaite has been questioned by many, Ezri Konsa is still finding his feet as a senior international, and Joe Gomez very much has the vibe of a utility option to be deployed in times of emergency.

What England need, therefore, is a dependable presence between the sticks - somebody to calm nerves, sharpen concentration, and bail them out when the going gets especially dicey. We have seen, on numerous occasions, that Pickford can be that goalkeeper. Over the course of 61 caps, he has made just one error that has led to a goal conceded, and in each of his last three major tournament campaigns he has barely put a foot, or glove, wrong.

This is the Pickford that needs to turn up in Germany; the mouthpiece, the rock, the world class shot stopper with a whiff of the impossible about him. He may not dominate the headlines like several of the more illustrious names in front of him, but make no mistake, the Everton number one will be just as pivotal to England’s chances of a long overdue glory.

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