England are far from favourites

Raheem Sterling (Supplied)
Raheem Sterling (Supplied)

London - A perfect 10 wins in qualifying and the emergence of new talent. Since the woeful Soccer World Cup in 2014, England seems to be on the up.

Roy Hodgson's team will not, though, be traveling to France in June as a favourite. Far from it. Not after failing to win a single match at that ill-fated World Cup.

The main English challenge will be producing an attacking zeal lacking in recent tournaments. Only two goals were scored in England's three games in Brazil last year. In Euro 2016 qualifying, Hodgson's side was unrestrained - netting 31 goals and conceding just three, while winning 10 out of 10.

The last country to qualify for a European Championship with a 100 percent record was Spain four years ago. And Spain went on to defend its trophy in the final in Warsaw. It was Spain, though, which gave England a lesson a month before the Euros draw by winning their friendly 2-0. It ended a 15-game unbeaten streak under Hodgson.

The tale of underachievement by England's national team seems to never end. Expect to hear much about "50 years of hurt" - since the 1966 World Cup success - as England prepares for the finals.

England has never won Europe's top prize, last reaching the semifinals on home soil in 1996. Will France be where Wayne Rooney finally makes a meaningful impression on a major tournament for the first time since his four-goal run at Euro 2004? Will the youthful exuberance of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling shine at the end of a grueling English season to turn the national team into a force again?

"It does give me great heart that we do have quality players coming through in this country," Hodgson said.

Here is a look at some of England's key players and its coach:

WAYNE ROONEY

The Manchester United striker did break Bobby Charlton's record England goal haul of 49 in qualifying after assuming the captaincy, but he appears a fading force. At 30, Rooney's influence at United has been on the wane, failing to inspire a team lacking attacking inspiration.

If Hodgson had the conviction to drop his captain, a natural replacement could be either Kane or Jamie Vardy, who were largely unknown beyond their own clubs when England last played at a tournament. Kane has emerged as one of English football's hot prospects over the last year for Tottenham, while Vardy has enjoyed a breakthrough season at Leicester by scoring in a record 11 consecutive Premier League games.

JOE HART

Though Jack Butland is emerging as a future England No 1 with his performances for Stoke, Hart's position of national team goalkeeper doesn't seem under threat. An assuring presence between the posts at Manchester City, where he appears to have regained Manuel Pellegrini's trust, Hart has been England's first choice for more than four years now.

RAHEEM STERLING

At tournaments, it's not enough to arrive with the skill. Players also need to cope with the pressure. Sterling seems well equipped for that. The type of bitter, drawn-out move Sterling made from Liverpool to Manchester City in the summer transfer window could have unsettled the best of players, but he quickly fitted into his new team. Despite costing £49m, Sterling has seemed unburdened by being the costliest English player ever and has dazzled on the wing already for City.

COACH: ROY HODGSON

Most coaches would lose their jobs after failing to win a match at a World Cup but Hodgson was allowed to see out his four-year contract. Whether the well-traveled 68-year-old survives in the England dugout after France will depend on the team's performance.

The English Football Association has said it won't repeat the "slightly unsavory position" it was in after the 2010 World Cup, when its ability to fire Fabio Capello was hampered by the Italian being handed a new contract on the eve of the tournament.

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