It began more in hope than expectation, but fans then dared to believe.
Last summer in Russia, patriotism soared as England reached the World Cup semi-finals, defying the odds as Gareth Southgate's young side overcame Colombia on penalties and slayed Sweden on their way to injecting genuine hope that football was coming home.
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Despite the heartbreak of defeat in extra time to Croatia in Moscow, the summer's protagonists in white and red returned heroes. After years of underachievement, here was a return to a case of 'what if' but pride had been restored in the Three Lions badge.
Southgate's men had become household names. This was no longer "the Harry Kane team" - in the same way that Pep Guardiola had branded Tottenham last season.

Harry Kane's last England goal came against Colombia in the World Cup.

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England were indebted to Kane for his goals, but with three of his six coming from the penalty spot, it was the collective performance rather than his golden boot that was most celebrated by supporters.
Jordan Pickford, Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire all grew in stature, but all three have struggled to reach the heights of those displays.
In many ways, it was always going to be a struggle to emulate such high standards, but as England embark on another campaign against the Czech Republic on Friday evening, the side Southgate is likely to pick represents a new England.
England team against Croatia, July 11, 2018: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Young, Henderson, Lingard, Alli, Sterling, Kane.
Expected England team against Czech Republic, Friday night: Pickford, Walker, Keane, Maguire, Chilwell, Henderson, Rice, Alli, Sancho, Sterling, Kane.

Wearing the Three Lions shirt has brought the best out of Harry Maguire

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A bold claim, but does Vydra have a point?

Such has been the shift in landscape in just nine months, Maguire - the £50m-rated Leicester defender who became an internet sensation when speaking to partner Ferne Hawkins pitchside out in Russia - has been identified as England's weak link.
Matej Vydra, the Burnley striker, featured last weekend as Maguire was sent off after just four minutes for the Foxes at Turf Moor in the Premier League for a tackle as the last defender on Johann Berg Gudmundsson.
The Czech striker could not resist a slight dig at Maguire when speaking to reporters ahead of the Wembley showdown, saying: "Kane is top, [Marcus] Rashford as well, [Raheem] Sterling is in a great form.
"The attack is very strong. Defence, I don't say it's not strong as well, but it's not as strong as the attack.
For example, Maguire. We talked about him at Burnley before we played against Leicester. In some moments it seems he doesn't know what's happening behind him, that's why he got a red card after five minutes in the match against Burnley.
Maguire is not alone in having suffered a slight drop-off in performance level since Russia.

Kieran Trippier has suffered a drop-off in performance for Tottenham this season

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Trippier was named in the official World Cup Team of the Tournament, but it's fair to say he has suffered something of a hangover.
His work rate, energy and pass completion statistics made him the stand-out option for the right-back slot, with his sublime free-kick putting England in pole position in the semi-final.

Southgate shows understanding of Premier League run-in

But he has failed to replicate those performances for Mauricio Pochettino's side, and Southgate's decision to revert to a back four not only doesn't play to his strengths, but it intensifies his battle with Kyle Walker, with only one place available.
With big games in store for both City and Spurs during the run-in, Southgate may opt to rotate the pair against the Czechs and Montenegro on Monday, but both are somewhat fortunate to be given the chance given Alexander-Arnold's withdrawal.
Jordan Pickford has experienced an indifferent season for Everton, making three penalty saves but also making four individual errors leading to goals conceded - more than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League.

Jordan Pickford's form has fluctuated this season for Everton but he remains England No 1

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There has been speculation over whether England's World Cup shoot-out hero against the Colombians in the last 16 would lose the No 1 jersey. Pickford was at fault for Liverpool's 96th-minute winner in the Merseyside derby at Anfield in December and his most recent spate of gaffes came on his return to the North-East during Everton's 3-2 defeat at Newcastle.
The 25-year-old has been reassured by Southgate that his position is not under immediate threat from Tom Heaton and Jack Butland, telling the media this week: “We just had a little chat about it really and they just asked us what did you think about the game.
Gareth being up at Middlesbrough for so many years, he knows what the passion for football in the north east is like. The abuse he gets, he kind of realised where I was.
While Maguire and Pickford's positions may be safe for now, there are other areas of the team that makes this unrecognisable from the side that fell to Croatia.

Jadon Sancho, left, and Callum Hudson-Odoi are the new kids on the block

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In that game, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic ran amok in midfield, leading Southgate to dispense with the three-man defence he had used in his previous 16 matches. The England boss felt heading into his renewal with Zlatko Dalic's men in the UEFA Nations League that his side were now well-equipped to move to a four-man backline.
The move has enabled England to deploy an extra attacking midfielder, and Jadon Sancho looks set to be the immediate beneficiary this evening.

Nations League success gives scope for experimentation

With England assured of a European Championship play-off place at the very least due to their progress in the Nations League, Southgate can afford to both experiment, and remind some of his most established names that there is competition for places.
Vydra is entitled to his opinion, but this isn't the same Czech Republic that reached the final of Euro '96, or indeed of later incarnations, spearheaded by Milan Baros eight years later. Indeed, they suffered their two record defeats last year, losing 4-0 to Australia and 5-1 to Russia.
The five withdrawals to Southgate's squad would represent an injury crisis for other nations, especially when you consider who is out. Luke Shaw (knock) is enjoying his best season for Manchester United, while Marcus Rashford (ankle) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (back) would also have been expected to start given their respective campaigns for United and Liverpool.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has withdrawn from the England squad

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Maguire's first-choice partner John Stones has also joined his Manchester City team-mate Fabian Delph in being ruled out, meaning those making their way to Wembley may encounter an unfamiliar line-up, but one that is still expected to play in Southgate's image.
For the likes of Michael Keane and Ben Chilwell, the start of the new Euro 2020 qualifying campaign represents an opportunity. Chilwell has started England's last four games at left-back, while Keane has returned to the fold having helped Everton keep four clean sheets in their last eight league games.
Further afield, the alterations underline the new strength in depth at Southgate's disposal. Dele Alli must feel like Woody surrounded by several Buzz Lightyears, but it's easy to forget he is still 22 years old, a seasoned veteran of 124 Premier League appearances.
The Tottenham attacking midfielder is back from a hamstring injury, and he will be expected to help the likes of Declan Rice, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who are new to the international scene.

Sancho, Rice set to be unleashed

Excitement is building for the Nations League finals in Portugal this summer, but the emergence of that trio of youngsters allows for momentum not to be lost in what should be a straightforward group for England, with Bulgaria, Montenegro and Kosovo unlikely to cause many problems.
Each represents a major subplot, but Southgate is unlikely to blood all three at once: Rice's senior debut has been overshadowed by the emergence of a pro-IRA message on social media back in 2015, and Southgate has called on supporters to get behind the 20-year-old.

Declan Rice has been part of a confident England camp this week for the first time

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His performances for West Ham, and the manner in which England fought to have him switch allegiances from the Republic of Ireland will hopefully mean that the midfielder's naive words at such a young age will soon be forgotten, and he has the perfect opportunity to show his continued maturity on the international stage.
The same can be said of Sancho, who has provided more assists (12) than any other player across Europe's top five leagues. The Borussia Dortmund flyer is expected to start as part of a three-pronged attack alongside Kane and Sterling. Enough to give Vydra nightmares, you would imagine, given the Czechs are ranked below Scotland.
Such is the man's confidence, he was spotted producing a Panenka penalty on Jack Butland at St George's Park this week, while Hudson-Odoi was busy doing stepovers inside the box. This is the modern game. Creating an aura, an intimidating environment for youngsters isn't part of this new England.
The Instagram age respond best to freedom of expression, and Southgate has found the right balance throughout his reign. When comparing Hudson-Odoi to Sancho, he said this week: "They are very similar in their development. Jadon has had more match experience and has been with us in the senior team a bit longer, but Callum has fitted in brilliantly.
They look like they've been with us forever. It's an opportunity for others, and they look ready to play for England. I wouldn't have any hesitation picking them and what it does show is that there's real competition for places. Others will have to work hard to get back in.
In midfield, Southgate may be tempted to have a look at Southampton’s in-form James Ward-Prowse, who was drafted into the squad after Ruben Loftus-Cheek was forced to pull out due to his back problems resurfacing.
Jordan Henderson has overcome an ankle injury to provide an experienced head, but should the Liverpool midfielder be unable to play the full 90 minutes, Eric Dier will hope to be handed the chance to reproduce the form which saw his rapid promotion to England's anchorman at Euro 2016.

Eric Dier must show he is ready to part of this new England with Rice ready to step in

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Dier and Barkley must respond to fresh competition

Curiously, England and Dier have been heading in opposite directions ever since the Iceland debacle in Nice. With Rice the new kid on the block, the Spurs midfielder facing an additional challenger to the role of destroyer and distributor.
Ross Barkley's good early-season form for Chelsea coincided with an encouraging display for England against Spain, but he must now acknowledge he is no longer a prospect, but an established footballer at the top level.
The 25-year-old's levels dropped not long after the last international break in November, and so he will hope Southgate's faith in him leads to a shot in the arm having previously drifted in and out of England squads.
His decision-making and productivity must improve if he is to retain his place with another member of last summer's World Cup stars, Jesse Lingard, out due to a hamstring problem.

Southgate has kept his fatih in Ross Barkley, a player who stands on the edge of the old and new England

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Despite the notable absentees, Southgate added: "The beauty of St George's Park is that it doesn't feel like a huge shift moving to working with the senior team.
"We expect the team to perform at a high level and we have to keep improving. We are the only team to back up one semi-final with another, and that has to be our motivation right through this campaign. We are still a young group and we can still improve. We have to be hungry for that."
England are unbeaten in their last 18 EURO qualifying matches, winning 15 including the last 10 in a row. Their last such defeat came under current QPR manager Steve McClaren in November 2007 versus Croatia.
Consistency has remained in spite of the fluctuation in individual performances. Last summer's feel-good anthem has played on, and with this new England, hope has been replaced by expectation. Despite the change in personnel, Southgate and supporters are right to expect similar results.
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