Why West Ham and England's Declan Rice 'can't wait to experience the real buzz and excitement' of UEFA Euro 2020
Three summers ago, Declan Rice watched England reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-finals at West Ham United’s pre-season training camp in the Swiss mountains.
The Hammers squad gathered in their team room to watch the Three Lions defeat Sweden and Colombia on their way to the semi-finals. where they were edged out by Croatia.
Three years on and Gareth Southgate’s squad face the same opponents in their opening group-stage fixture at the delayed UEFA Euro 2020 finals at Wembley Stadium – and this time Rice will not be sitting watching, he will be playing.
"Honestly, the World Cup was buzzing. I remember watching the Panama game, the Tunisia game, Sweden game. It was incredible,” he recalled. "The singing before the game, the national anthem. Just being a part of it. I was a fan for that tournament so to be part of this tournament is unbelievable."
For Rice, the opportunity to line up in England’s midfield against Luka Modric and company looked like it may elude him when he suffered a knee injury in the 2022 World Cup qualifying win over Poland last time he stepped on the Wembley pitch at the end of March.
But thankfully, the 22-year-old healed quickly and helped West Ham secure a top-six Premier League finish and European qualification before meeting up with the England squad at the start of June.
"I'm a bit of a worrier," he revealed. "[The doctor] sent me for a scan and it came back when I was on my way home, when I got the call from the physio saying I ruptured my LCL (lateral collateral ligament) and straight away I asked how long that would be - 'am I going to miss the Euros?', 'am I going to miss the end of the season?'
"They said they couldn't put a time frame on it. They said it could be ten to 12 weeks and they didn't know if it needed surgery.
"I'm thinking 'oh'. The first person I called was my dad and then (Mark) Noble, to say 'I think I'm done'. He always gives me good advice and calms me down.
"Once we saw the knee specialist he gave me full belief I could be back and then as soon as I started my rehab it was six weeks, no days off, in every day and really smashed it out.
"I was back running in four weeks, it could have been three but I didn't want to push, then back training with the team but it was more the fitness side of it.
"Getting back up and running, then I played three games in seven days after six weeks out at the end of the season so that was tough but now my knee feels really good and strong.
"I've done everything right, which gives me the best chance to perform."
And when he does stride onto the Wembley pitch again on Sunday afternoon, cheered on by thousands of England supporters, he will likely do so alongside his lifelong friend, the Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount.
The pair first met at the age of eight, when both were schoolboys with the west London club, and have been inseparable ever since, even after Rice was released by the Blues and joined West Ham at 14.
"I was speaking about it yesterday to Mase when we got handed the legacy caps," he said. "The journey we have both been on together. It is incredible.
"We are 22 and about to represent our country at a major tournament. We both cannot wait for it to come round.
"Obviously growing up watching England in tournaments as well, you just feel the proper buzz, the effects and the desire of the country for the players to do well.
"I just can't wait to experience this and just get the real buzz and excitement of the tournament."