In the small courtyard of the medieval castle that England players walk through each afternoon on their way to speak to the media, the local tourist board has put up a poster.

It depicts a peaceful scene of some half-timbered houses, next to a river. ‘The Heart of Germany,’ the words on the poster say. ‘Discover Thuringia, where history is ever-present.’

Down the road in Erfurt, the regional capital, one of the landmark events from the past is the Erfurter Latrinensturz of 1184, a salutary and rather gruesome tale of pride coming before a fall.

Henry VI, King of Germany had convened an assembly of noblemen in the upper storey of a church. When the floor collapsed under their weight, they fell through it into the giant latrine below. More than 60 people drowned in excrement.

Think of it as a metaphor for what happens to national football teams when things go wrong at major tournaments if you wish but whether it goes badly for England in the next few weeks or not, it is not going to go as badly as that.

England have to overcome a history of heart-break to triumph at the Euros in Germany

England have to overcome a history of heart-break to triumph at the Euros in Germany

England have to overcome a history of heart-break to triumph at the Euros in Germany 

Wayne Rooney was sent off in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals against Portugal as England went on to lose on penalties

Wayne Rooney was sent off in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals against Portugal as England went on to lose on penalties

Wayne Rooney was sent off in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals against Portugal as England went on to lose on penalties

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England have their own history to deal with in Germany. The last time they played in a major tournament here, at the 2006 World Cup, their campaign became overwhelmed by the celebrity circus surrounding their wives and girlfriends at their base in Baden-Baden.

They lost in the quarter-finals, their ceiling under Sven-Goran Eriksson. Wayne Rooney was sent off against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen, where England play their opening game of these European Championships against Serbia on Sunday.

That World Cup represented a nadir in England’s attempts to win their first major trophy since 1966. They had been blessed with a group of richly talented players and now that Golden Generation had had one last chance to make its mark and it had been wasted.

And then there is England’s history against the hosts of this tournament. It is not all bad. But after 1966, most of it is. The World Cup semi-final defeat to West Germany in Turin in 1990, the night of Gazza’s tears and that cursed penalty shoot-out, is still a bitter memory.

The heartbreak of losing to Germany on penalties at Euro 96, a defeat that brought down the curtain on an enchanted summer in England that had brought the country together, is still raw.

Gareth Southgate, the England manager, missed the critical kick in that penalty shoot-out at the old Wembley and even if he gained a measure of revenge when his side beat Germany during Euro 2020, the significance of the match was not the same.

When the German newspaper, Bild, interviewed Southgate recently, they asked him about his relationship with Germany. ‘I associate Germany with a lot of pain,’ Southgate said, and even if he was smiling, it was a wry smile.

The next question was whether leading England to winning the European Championships here this summer would allow him to put the ‘tragedy’ of Euro 96 behind him.

Paul Gascoigne burst into tears after losing to West Germany at the 1990 World Cup

Paul Gascoigne burst into tears after losing to West Germany at the 1990 World Cup

Paul Gascoigne burst into tears after losing to West Germany at the 1990 World Cup 

Gareth Southgate missed the crucial spot-kick to lose against Germany in the 1996 Euros

Gareth Southgate missed the crucial spot-kick to lose against Germany in the 1996 Euros

Gareth Southgate missed the crucial spot-kick to lose against Germany in the 1996 Euros 

Southgate knows Euro 2024 is about staring England's history in the eye and overcoming it

Southgate knows Euro 2024 is about staring England's history in the eye and overcoming it

Southgate knows Euro 2024 is about staring England’s history in the eye and overcoming it 

‘No,’ Southgate said, ‘because for the guys I played with at the time, and also for the coach who unfortunately passed away last year, that was their personal chance. It’s not just about me.

‘I also don’t think it was the fault of the players who missed the penalties in the European Championship final against Italy in 2021. After all, we had 120 minutes to win the game beforehand. The older I get, the more I understand that.

‘I used to have the stupid idea in my head that 1996 was my fault alone. But you have this feeling in you, which will probably never change completely.’

When England kick off in Gelsenkirchen, Southgate will know that this tournament is not about being inspired by England’s football history. It is about staring it in the eye and overcoming it.

Whatever England’s weaknesses in defence, Southgate’s side deserves to be among the favourites to win these Euros and finally end the team’s 58-year drought without winning a leading competition.

The tournament is wide open. France are still the team to beat but they are not quite the side they were when they reached the World Cup final in Qatar, Germany appear to have found form at the right time but the hosts are still brittle, Portugal are strong contenders but lack depth, Belgium and Spain lack the spread of talent England possess.

But England have to overcome that history of heart-breaking losses, they have to overcome that crushing habit of losing in tight knock-out games, of being on the wrong end of fine margins, of wasting the opportunity to seize the day.

‘If we want to be a big team and I want to be a top coach,’ Southgate said in the same interview, ‘then you have to deliver in the big moments.’

England's array of talent, which rivals that of the Golden Generation, has raised expectations

England's array of talent, which rivals that of the Golden Generation, has raised expectations

England’s array of talent, which rivals that of the Golden Generation, has raised expectations 

We looked stupid for giving the Golden Generation such a vainglorious name as they went on to win nothing

We looked stupid for giving the Golden Generation such a vainglorious name as they went on to win nothing

We looked stupid for giving the Golden Generation such a vainglorious name as they went on to win nothing

The next generation of stars is brimming with potential and offers hope for the future

The next generation of stars is brimming with potential and offers hope for the future

The next generation of stars is brimming with potential and offers hope for the future 

England will face three long trips from their base in Blankenhain during the group stages

And now the next big moment is almost upon us. England expects and England has a right to expect because any side that features Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Declan Rice, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker should be shooting for the stars.

We are nervous about saying it because the last time we felt like this, the Golden Generation won nothing and we looked stupid for giving them such a vainglorious name and boasting of what they were going to achieve on the biggest stages.

But the reality is that this is a generation of England players to rival the Golden Generation. It is probably best that we do not attach the same label to them but the amount of quality at Southgate’s disposal is frightening.

We are only just beginning to glimpse the extent of the potential of a player like Cole Palmer and he may not even make the starting line-up against Serbia. The same is true of Adam Wharton.

The England squad is like an orchard where the boughs of the trees bend under the weight of the gold nuggets that hang from them.

But there is a caveat. We all know what it is. The caveat is that Southgate cannot pick a team full of number 10s. He can only fit five, at best, of those supremely talented creative, attacking players into the side that will face the Serbs, Denmark and Slovenia in the group stage.

Those who criticise Southgate for being cautious often seem to forget that football is a team game. England have great strengths but they have weaknesses, too. The gridiron college coach Bear Bryant coined the phrase ‘defense wins championships’ and England’s defence is their Achilles’ heel.

Kyle Walker is still the best right back in the game but there are nagging doubts about the fitness of John Stones, England’s first choice central defender, who has also been ill this week. Harry Maguire, the other stalwart at the heart of the back four, is out through injury.

Southgate's task has been made harder by problems in defence, such as Harry Maguire's injury

Southgate's task has been made harder by problems in defence, such as Harry Maguire's injury

Southgate’s task has been made harder by problems in defence, such as Harry Maguire’s injury

Kieran Trippier, deployed on the left, completes a picture of a patched-up England back line

Kieran Trippier, deployed on the left, completes a picture of a patched-up England back line

Kieran Trippier, deployed on the left, completes a picture of a patched-up England back line

For Southgate the question is how much he should 'let England off the leash' as the fans desire

For Southgate the question is how much he should 'let England off the leash' as the fans desire

For Southgate the question is how much he should ‘let England off the leash’ as the fans desire

That leaves England dependent on Marc Guehi, the Crystal Palace centre back. Guehi is a fine player but he has looked uncertain in England’s warm-up matches.

Lewis Dunk is also a fine defender but the memory of how he was exposed by Romelu Lukaku in England’s draw with Belgium at Wembley in March is still fresh in the mind of those who saw it.

Luke Shaw, the only recognised left back in the squad, is still far enough away from full fitness that he had to wear a bright green bib at England’s training session at the Carl Zeiss Jena stadium on Tuesday to remind his teammates they could not tackle him.

That means that Kieran Trippier, who is such an asset as a right back, is likely to deputise on the left flank. He is an experienced and clever player but he completes a picture of a defensive unit that is patched up and pragmatic.

So that is Southgate’s dilemma. And that is the dilemma that will dominate analysis of England’s fortunes at these Euros. How much does the England manager bow to the siren song that he must ‘let England off the leash’ and heed the easy pleas that he needs to ‘give them their freedom’?

And how much does he stick to his belief that, in order for England’s attacking talents to thrive, his first priority must be to protect that vulnerable back four by putting two sitting midfielders in front of it.

It was England’s positional indiscipline in that area that was exposed against Iceland at Wembley in the last warm-up game when the visitors sliced through Southgate’s midfield time and again. That cannot be allowed to happen against Serbia.

Southgate knows he has to give those forward players the right platform to express themselves and if that means playing Alexander-Arnold alongside Rice at the base of midfield, that also feels like an innovative way of squeezing the best passer of the ball in the squad into the team.

England will be based at the Weimarer Land Spa and Golf resort throughout Euro 2024

England will be based at the Weimarer Land Spa and Golf resort throughout Euro 2024

England will be based at the Weimarer Land Spa and Golf resort throughout Euro 2024

England's players will be served by Robbie the Robot who only speaks German but will collect the squad's dishes

England's players will be served by Robbie the Robot who only speaks German but will collect the squad's dishes

England’s players will be served by Robbie the Robot who only speaks German but will collect the squad’s dishes

Three of the best suites at the resort have golf-themed names - Albatross, Birdie and Eagle

Three of the best suites at the resort have golf-themed names - Albatross, Birdie and Eagle

Three of the best suites at the resort have golf-themed names – Albatross, Birdie and Eagle

There are no English-language menus for diners but England will bring their own chefs and nutritionists

There are no English-language menus for diners but England will bring their own chefs and nutritionists

There are no English-language menus for diners but England will bring their own chefs and nutritionists

In order to help make the Three Lions feel as at home as possible the smell from St George's Park will also be transported to the hotel complex

In order to help make the Three Lions feel as at home as possible the smell from St George's Park will also be transported to the hotel complex

In order to help make the Three Lions feel as at home as possible the smell from St George’s Park will also be transported to the hotel complex

That way, England can still concentrate on tearing opposition defences apart. Bellingham’s advanced role in midfield raises the prospect of a dream partnership with Kane that joins two of the brightest footballing minds in the game.

Foden and Saka on either flank is an enticing prospect, too. And if there are any dips in form, to have players like Palmer, Eberechi Eze, Ivan Toney and Anthony Gordon in reserve is a luxury indeed.

So many places of the jigsaw are in place. There was much to draw the wives and girlfriends of the players to the elegant streets and designer boutiques of Baden-Baden but even though Erfurt is a beautiful city, exploring the site of the Latrinensturz on Domplatz might not hold quite the same attraction.

The football will be centre stage on this visit to Germany. A new gilded generation of lavishly talented young England footballers has an opportunity here that is waiting to be seized.

Imagine winning their first tournament for more than half a century and winning it in Germany. There could be no better way of ending the drought. England’s football history might be ever-present but it is time to break free of its grip.

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