By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – England’s impressive qualifying campaign for the European Championship has sent fans’ expectations soaring but former defender Micah Richards says the side may not be the finished article when the tournament comes around next year.
Gareth Southgate’s squad secured their place at next year’s finals in emphatic fashion with seven victories from eight games, scoring 37 goals and conceding only six.
England have never won the tournament, coming closest when they lost to Germany in the semi-finals on home soil in 1996, and Richards said it was high time they made an impression.
“We don’t just want to be talking about qualification, it’d be nice if we could get to a minimum semi-final in the Euros,” he told Reuters in an interview.
The former Manchester City defender said the squad had gone through a transition period with youngsters coming through but that everyone seemed to be on the same page as Southgate.
“It seems as though there’s a happy camp there,” he added. “A lot of people seem to be enjoying the football again, and it’s showing on the pitch.”
Richards, who was England’s youngest-ever defender when he made his debut at the age of 18, said the current side would be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years.
“If you look at the team now, maybe not this competition, but like next World Cup or next Euros a lot of people will be in their peak as well,” said Richards.
“Maybe this time has just come a little bit too soon. But in terms of next World Cup, next Euros, if you can keep this group together … injuries and what not, good form … I feel like a really good chance.”
The Euro 2020 finals will be played in 12 nations with the semi-finals and final to be held at Wembley Stadium, and with England reaching the semi-finals at last year’s World Cup they will have a target on their backs, said Richards.
“They did well in the World Cup. Sometimes it could be good to be underdogs though,” said Richards, who was in India for Manchester City’s global trophy tour.
“When expectation is on you it becomes a little bit more difficult. No one expected them to do well in the World Cup and they had a good tournament. So, hopefully they will take a bit of confidence from that and take it into the Euros.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)