Why we can get excited about England’s chances at the U21 European Championships

Harry Kane, the new David Beckham, no Spain and a beatable Germany – dare we predict a tournament win for England and Gareth Southgate?

England’s youngsters begin their Euro U-21 Championships this Thursday evening live on BT Sport – and there are plenty of reasons to be excited.

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The tournament has already kicked off in the Czech Republic, but while the likes of Germany, Italy and Portugal will give coach Gareth Southgate plenty of headaches, the next generation of English talent go into the competition full of confidence.

England Expects – and this time it’s justified. Find out why, read England’s match schedule and when every match is on TV below.

Harry Kane

OK, start with the obvious: the Premier League’s top scoring English striker this season is in Gareth Southgate’s squad. With many world stars eligible to play but not in action here – Mario Gotze, Raheem Sterling and Julian Draxler to name but three – Kane is one of the tournament’s highest profile players.

No senior stand-ins

Kane’s inclusion highlights something else: he actually wanted to be involved. England this year have largely avoided the scrappy back-and-forth between club and country that characterised previous tournaments.

“I think that if we’ve had any feeling that players were not desperate to be involved we haven’t picked them. Simple as that,” said Southgate. The likes of Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are eligible, but Roy Hodgson and Southgate have chosen instead to keep the core of the team that qualified for the Euros unchanged. They can manage on their own.

Just seven challengers…

The U-21 Championship is a cosy tournament: two groups of four, with the top two from each group going into the semi finals. England are one of the favourites, although their group featuring Italy, Portugal and Sweden is hardly a walkover. The first match is against Portugal, who came through qualifying unbeaten.

…Not including Spain

The holders were beaten by Serbia in the qualifying play-off, ending a run of 35 games unbeaten at this age level. Oh well, no one wanted to see Barcelona’s academy players anyway.

England have beaten Germany

Yes, the World Cup winners lauded for their youth system overhaul aren’t actually as impregnable as you might think. Goals from Jesse Lingard, Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse helped England to a 3-2 win against the tournament favourites in March this year. Anyone for penalties in the semis?

Injuries aren’t everything

Yes, it’s a blow to lose Everton defender John Stones for the first two matches. But with Calum Chambers and Carl Jenkinson both with senior England caps in the bag, the defensive depth is adequate.

Up front too the news that top scorer in qualifying Saido Berahino is injured is a pain, but with Kane, Liverpool’s new signing Danny Ings and replacement Benik Afobe flying in, there should be cover to deal with the West Brom striker’s loss.

James Ward Prowse is the new Beckham

England loves a set piece master, and they don’t come much better right now than the Southampton midfielder. Honestly, everything is going to be OK.

When are England’s matches?

Thursday 18th June v Portugal, 7.15pm BT Sport 1

Sunday 21st June v Sweden, 4.45pm BT Sport 1

Wednesday 24th June v Italy, 7pm BT Sport 1

Who is in the squad?

Goalkeepers: Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham), Jonathan Bond (Watford), Jack Butland (Stoke City)

Defenders: Calum Chambers (Arsenal), Luke Garbutt (Everton), Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, on loan at West Ham United), Michael Keane (Burnley), Liam Moore (Leicester City), John Stones (Everton), Matt Targett (Southampton)

Midfielders: Tom Carroll (Tottenham Hotspur), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Will Hughes (Derby County), Jake Forster-Caskey (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Alex Pritchard (Tottenham Hotspur), Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)

Forwards: Benik Afobe (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Danny Ings (Burnley)

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When is the final?

Tuesday 30 June, 7pm BT Sport 1. Believe.