But this year, in a thrilling, trophy-laden summer, England’s Young Lions outclassed their rivals and provided a glimpse of a golden future for English football.
Playing with the exuberance of youth, and without the burden of expectation, our under-17s, under-19s and under-20s took on the best Europe and the rest of the world have to offer, and won.
In June, the under-20s beat Mexico, Argentina and Italy on the way to England’s first final appearance in a global tournament since 1966.
In the final, they beat Venezuela thanks to a goal from Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and a penalty save from Freddie Woodman.
Freddie was named the best goalkeeper, and forward Dominic Solanke named player of the tournament, following in the footsteps of previous winners Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, Paul Pogba and Sergio Aguero.
The following month, England’s under-19s won the European Championship, beating Portugal 2-1 in the final after toapping their group, and knocking out the Czech Republic and Germany.
Nottingham Forest forward Ben Brereton and Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon were the tournament’s joint top scorers, with three goals each.
And to cap a remarkable year for England youth teams, which also included a win for the under-20s in the prestigious Toulon Tournament and a Euro semi-final appearance for the under-21s, in October the under-17s won their World Cup.
The team had already signposted their potential by getting to the final of the European championships, where they lost in heartbreaking fashion to Spain on penalties.
Despite going 2-0 down against the same opponents in the World Cup final, England were not to be denied, overwhelming Spain in the second half to win 5-2.
It was a scintillating performance, with Spain having no answer to England’s skill, speed and guile, with Manchester City’s Phil Foden pulling the strings.
He was one of the stand-out stars of the tournament, along with Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster, who netted successive hat-tricks in the quarter-final and semi-final against Brazil.
The next challenge for these players is to establish themselves as first-team regulars in the Premier League, a difficult task in itself, before stepping up to the senior England squad.
But with their heady mix of youth, talent and dedication, who would bet against this golden generation of Young Lions becoming the heartbeat of English football for the next decade and beyond?
And, who knows, with their taste for winning trophies, perhaps 51 years of hurt won’t last too much longer.
England’s young lions offer real hope of a bright future for the national team. Across the three age groups, they beat giants of world football including Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy, bringing home three trophies. A sensational achievement.Pride of Sport judges