England are off to the Euros today, heading to France to continue their preparations for their first game on June 11th against Russia, and if James Milner has a few exciting words of wisdom to impress upon his teammates ahead of the summer’s biggest tournament. Namely that they should try not to lose.
"What I’ve learned more than anything is don’t lose your first game, whatever happens," Milner told the press as he and his England teammates prepared to depart today. "It’s great to win and to get off to a flying start, but if you can’t get that win you make sure you’re solid and don’t concede late on looking for a winner."
After an uneven qualification where they finished second in their group to Austria, what first opponents Russia will bring once the tournament kicks off a bit of an unknown. They still have talent, but they aren’t the side they were in previous tournaments, and they’re the bottom country in Group B based on FIFA’s rankings.
Gone are the days when they could be thought of as legitimate dark horse candidates, but if England take them lightly they’ve still got the ability to punish the Three Lions. Striker Artem Dzyuba led qualification Group G in scoring, and only four of the 23 qualifying finalists conceded have fewer goals than Russia.
England, though, were one of those teams. England were the second top scorers in all of qualifying and had the second best defensive record—and combined, that gave them the best goal differential heading into the Euros. Questions of management aside, the numbers say England must be considered tournament favourites.
"The squad’s got a bit of everything," added Milner. "We can play a variety of formations and there are players with so many different strengths. Pace, trickery, solid players and more defensive-minded players, I think as a squad we’ve got so many options and the manager can pick completely different quality teams."