England could actually win Euro 2020. Seriously, England could actually win this thing.
It took beating arch nemesis Germany 2-0 at Wembley Stadium to finally entertain the thought, and suddenly, the Three Lions are favorites (+200 at BetMGM) — something that simply doesn’t happen at major tournaments.
England hasn’t won a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup, back when The Beatles were still touring the United States. Notably, the final that year also was played at Wembley Stadium in London and featured the home side beating Germany by two goals.
This year just feels special.
To illustrate England’s level of failure, the country hasn’t even reached the final at either the European Championship or the World Cup since then. The last time England made the semifinals of the Euros was as host in 1996, losing to Germany, at Wembley, in a penalty shootout. (Of course.)
That competition is what inspired the “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)” song that gets sung every major tournament. It has mainly been sung in a sarcastic tone by people trying not to laugh. But this year feels different, as if all the years of bad luck and heartache have yielded a perfect storm of circumstances to, well, bring football home.
There’s more than a fair bit of luck at play. France, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands are among the traditional European heavyweights already eliminated, while Spain, Italy and Belgium are all on the opposite side of the draw and could only meet England in a final.
For once, the factors out of England’s control are helping, not hurting, its chances.
England is favored at -250 according to BetMGM in its quarterfinal match against Ukraine, a side that was outplayed by Sweden in the Round of 16 and advanced after nicking a goal late in extra time well after the Swedes were reduced to 10 men.
Manager Andriy Shevchenko’s side lost two of its three group stage matches and finished with a negative goal difference. But this deeply flawed team lucked out and qualified for the knockout rounds despite finishing third in Group C behind Netherlands and Austria — two teams that are no longer in the competition.
Gareth Southgate’s England, in sharp contrast, enters Saturday’s quarterfinal with three wins and a draw in four matches — with zero goals conceded.
And England is enjoying a generous home-field advantage. Should the Three Lions beat Ukraine in Rome, they’ll return to their home ground at Wembley for the semifinal and potentially the final. If England goes the distance, six of its seven matches will be at its home stadium.
The semifinal opponent will either be the Czech Republic or Denmark (without Christian Eriksen). England would be favored in a semifinal on a neutral ground against either opponent. On home ground, England should be heavy favorites.
The luck of the draw, the home pitch and the favorable travel arrangements provide England a uniquely unfair edge, but this version of the Three Lions is also built for tournament play: a solid, consistent setup in the back that keeps clean sheets, mixed with a wide array of world-class attacking talents that can erupt at any moment.
Southgate has tinkered with his attackers during the tournament, but the fact that Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount and Marcus Rashford will probably not make the starting lineup in the quarterfinal speaks to the riches Southgate enjoys in attack. Clubs would line up to pay $100 million to acquire any of the aforementioned players this summer (Manchester United already is), because that would be considered a serious discount.
Instead, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, the captain, are the two forwards all but guaranteed to keep their starting spots. Both have featured in every match thus far. Bukayo Saka is also a decent bet to keep his place in the starting lineup.
Jack Grealish, who came on as a substitute and helped set up both goals against Germany, still isn’t guaranteed a starting spot against Ukraine. But it’s expected the Aston Villa dribbling specialist and playmaker will at least come on as a substitute.
For as much attacking firepower as England possesses, the main reason it could win this tournament is the defense. England’s strength is its stability at the back, with Harry Maguire and John Stones forming the center back pairing, the pace of Kyle Walker covering breakaways at right back, and the versatility of Luke Shaw seamlessly transitioning into the attack on the left. In goal, Jordan Pickford has yet to allow a goal and has been excellent when called upon.
Add in the reliable but not flashy play of central midfielders Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, and the English are a puzzle that’s proving difficult to solve. They’re not always a juggernaut that delivers goals — or even entertains, frankly — but being a bit dull and drab could be just a side effect of England being good enough to finally become European champions.
A quarter century after the song was first sung, football is coming home to another Wembley final. England looks primed to take it from there.
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