Gary Neville has an overwhelming desire that reaching the semi finals
EXCLUSIVE: Gary Neville has an overwhelming desire that reaching the semi finals of Euro '96 should not be the pinnacle of his England career. Indeed the Manchester United right back believes that England will never have a better opportunity of success than with the current squad of players.So determined is the 55 times capped player that England must succeed, he openly admits that not winning one of the next two major international tournament's would have to be regarded as failure.
Neville revealed: "Stuart Pearce said to me during Euro '96 "this is as good as it gets", and remember this was only my second year with England!
"I was actually suspended for the semi final but had played in every game up until that point. I've always believed it couldn't be that I'd reached the high point of my international career by the age of 20!
"What Stuart said has always stuck with me and I have to believe there has to be something better. There is a World Cup to win, a European Championship to win and that will surpass what I experienced seven years ago.
"We now have to qualify for Euro 2004. This squad in terms of youth and talent is the best in terms of potential that it has ever been in my time.
"The Euro 96 team was probably the best England team I've played in, with Shearer, Gascoigne, Platt, Ince, Adams, Pearce, Sheringham and Seaman. They were the players that stood out who were at their absolute peak.
"Of the team now, half of the players aren't even at their peak. You name Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole - there's no better three defenders in Europe in their positions. Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Kieron Dyer, Nicky Butt and Danny Murphy in midfield! Michael Owen - European footballer of the year, Emile Heskey plus the younger players - Francis Jeffers, Wayne Rooney and Darius Vassell in attack - why can't this squad not achieve something in the next four years?
"These tournaments are only every two years. The next two are massive for quite a lot of this squad - those of us who are in our mid to late 20's. The younger players who are around 20 years old may have three or four tournaments in front of them. For those players of a similar age to myself four years is a realistic target to set and anything beyond that is a bonus. However the next two tournaments are crucial.
"This is something we do talk about amongst ourselves. We know that the opportunities to win these things reduce the more that time passes. You talk between yourselves and realise that the adulation that the 1966 team or the French team get for winning the World Cup and European Championship cements your place in history as a team and as an era.
"I think that's something that has to happen to this country. I don't see any better chance than in the next four years - if it doesn't then we've failed."
The 28 year old, who has won almost every domestic and European trophy in club football, is confident England can deliver as he looks ahead to next summers European Championships.
"With the talent we have I don't see to many other teams in Europe or the World possessing players with the amount of speed, power, strength, ability and youth England has", claims Neville.
Adding: "There are probably six or seven teams that can win Euro 2004 - France, Germany, Italy are the teams which usually get to the final. Portugal are on their own turf, Spain have always disappointed, as the Dutch often have. I like to think England are one of those teams which can win it."
Looking ahead to England's opponents at The Stadium of Light on Wednesday, Neville acknowledges the progress made by the team seen as England's biggest threat to automatic qualification.
"Turkey now have to be in the mix after their performances at the World Cup. They are an emerging nation. Like Croatia who got a World Cup semi final in 1998 when they first started, Turkey are a little bit like that. They've got a good breed of players at the moment, going through a nice patch and it will be difficult against them - but England has to be at major championships."
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