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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

England Prays for Home Pitch Magic

LONDON -- It has been 30 years since England last staged a soccer championship.


It has been 30 years since an English team captain danced on the podium with a winning trophy in hand.


Can the magic of home pitch possibly make the inventors of soccer champions once again?


England has not played a competitive game of soccer for 2 1/2 years, and it takes on the might of Europe with the task of satisfying both an expectant public and a critical media.


Anything less than a place in the semifinal of the European Championship would be regarded as a flop. Anything worse would be another disaster along the lines of its non-qualification for the 1994 World Cup.


The expectancy level is high since England has not won a tournament since its World Cup triumph in 1966.


As host for Euro 96, England didn't have to qualify, but that presented coach Terry Venables with a tricky problem: He has no idea how his players will perform under competitive conditions.


On paper, Venables knows he has the talent to get to the semifinal. Paul Gascoigne is capable of inspirational matchwinning performances and David Platt is still around to patrol the midfield.


Inter Milan's tough-tackling midfielder Paul Ince has rediscovered his form, and Blackburn's Alan Shearer has scored 30 goals in each of the last three seasons in the Premier League.


But Gascoigne's standout performances in the Scottish Premier Division can't compare with taking on the mighty Dutch. Platt has been largely anonymous when playing for his country in the last year and Shearer, whose last goal for his country was against the United States 20 months ago, appears to have forgotten how to score in an England shirt.


And Venables has still another major problem. His defense.


It's no secret in world soccer that English central defenders are slow and predictable and, when it comes to dealing with fast-breaking opponents, they can look like amateurs.


With Wembley as its home ground for the first three group games against Switzerland, Scotland and the Netherlands, England has every chance of making it to the last eight. To stay at Wembley for the quarters, however, it has to finish top of the group and that may be difficult.