Paul Ince has been there and done it. He savoured what Gareth Southgate’s side will taste next week.
England play three European Championship group-stage matches, including one against Scotland, at their home – Wembley.
The former Manchester United, Liverpool and Inter Milan midfielder was part of the England side that topped their group and progressed to the semi-finals at Euro 96, beating their bitter rivals along the way.
Paul Ince (right) was part of the England side that reached the European Championship semi-finals 25 years ago, alongside the likes of Teddy Sheringham (left) and Alan Shearer (centre)
Ince, now 53, thinks the current England team must at least emulate the record of his side
Terry Venables’ Three Lions were roared on by more than 75,000 fans in each game before crashing out in heartbreaking fashion, on penalties to Germany.
The current England crop will gain support from less than a third of the number that turned out 25 years ago, due to coronavirus restrictions.
Instead just around 22,500 fans will descend on the Home of Football when England kick off their Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia on Sunday, but Ince believes the absence of a sell-out crowd can still play to the Three Lions’ advantage.
‘It’s still quite an inexperienced team and a lot haven’t played in major tournaments like the Euros or the World Cup,’ Ince, speaking at the launch of the Paddy Park at Flat Iron Square in London, told Sportsmail.
‘If there’s a full house how would they deal with it from a pressure point of view?
‘Some will embrace it, some will be nervous, it might affect their performance so having a limited amount of fans in might be beneficial to the ones who have not had experience of big-game tournaments.
‘Our time we had a full house but then again we had [Alan] Shearer, [Teddy] Sheringham, [Tony] Adams, [Stuart] Pearce, [David] Seaman, people who played in cup finals and full houses – that’s why they’re great players because they love pressure, they can deal with pressure.
‘Some of these players like [Phil] Foden are learning, this is another learning curve for them playing in front of fans at Wembley, major tournaments. They’ve got years and years of it and the more they play them the more experience they’ll get.
PAUL INCE’S ENGLAND STARTING XI VS CROATIA
Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Chilwell; Henderson, Rice, Mount; Foden, Kane, Rashford.
‘Foden thrives on pressure, he’s played in the Champions League final – he’s been outstanding. [Mason] Mount’s played in the Champions League final. They’ll be OK.’
At Euro 96 England drew their opening game against Switzerland and, just like Southgate’s charges will, they faced Scotland in their second group match.
England are notoriously slow starters at the Euros and have even never won their first match. Anything but victory over Croatia ramps up the pressure for the highly-anticipated Scotland clash.
It was a must-win for Venables’ side with a tricky Holland test to conclude the group stages.
Ince played 80 minutes in England’s 2-0 win over their rivals, which featured Paul Gascoigne’s sensational solo goal, but he has warned that ‘form goes out of the window’ in such a match-up.
‘The rivalry is immense. On paper we are the better team, player for player. We are a better team,’ the 53-year-old said.
‘But the Scottish players find something different, they find something else when they play against England.
Terry Venables’ Three Lions were roared on by more than 75,000 fans in each home game
‘They run extra hard, they tackle extra hard, everything they do they do 10 times better because they’re playing against us.
‘When you look at it – we’ve got [Harry] Kane, we’ve got [Raheem] Sterling, compared to what they’ve got. It doesn’t work like that, form goes out of the window because they are up for it every time.
‘If we were to lose to Croatia, you’re going into that Scotland game saying: “We need to win this game, we’ve got to win it.” Again it’s a different type of pressure and that’s why the Croatia game is so important, to get something out of it.
‘It’s not going to be a full house but it’s England vs Scotland and they know what it means to everybody and that gives added pressure.’
Ince faced Scotland in the second group game just like Gareth Southgate’s side will next week
After Scotland, England will conclude Group D by welcoming the Czech Republic.
Progress through the group and they face the prospect of playing either world champions France, reigning European champions Portugal or 2014 World Cup winners Germany in the last 16.
Despite such a potentially tough side of the draw, Ince believes anything but reaching the last four will not be good enough for England.
‘I’d be disappointed if we didn’t get to the semi-finals. I think if you go on the basis of what we did in 2018, getting to the World Cup semi-finals there, that was the ultimate time for us to win the World Cup,’ Ince said.
Ince believes anything but reaching the last four will not be good enough for England
‘The journey England got, they should have actually gone on and won the World Cup. If we’re going on the basis of that then we’ve got to get to the semi-finals.
‘To win a tournament like this you have to have everything go your way. Injuries, decisions, discipline, who you play, all those things have to go your way.
‘If they do then I expect us to get to the semis and after that if we’re at Wembley we can beat anyone.’
Ince and his Euro 96 team-mates came so agonisingly close to reaching their own Wembley final.
They captured the hearts of a nation but fell just short. Ince is hoping the current England side can do the same, but this time taste success.
Paul Ince was speaking at the launch of the Paddy Parks, the ultimate fan viewing experience for all EURO 2020 games. Held at Flat Iron Square and Riverside Newcastle, tickets will sell out fast – visit www.paddyparkfanzones.com to book your spot.