I’ve never had so much confidence in England at a tournament as I’ve had during Euro 2020, and the same applies for Sunday’s final. I fancy us strongly against Italy.
I was hopeful about our chances before we even started this journey but, by watching each step we’ve taken, that turned into genuine belief we could go all the way – I was quite relaxed before we played Ukraine, and Denmark too.
The two biggest reasons for that are our squad depth and the culture that Gareth Southgate has created in the camp, where there are no egos allowed.
Put all that together, and it makes the difference – it’s why we are in our first men’s final for 55 years.
There’s no point looking back and wondering why we didn’t get it right in the past, including in my time with England, because I want to shine the spotlight on these players and why they are here now.
You speak to Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer and it’s the same. It’s not about what we did or didn’t do or what we didn’t have then – we didn’t win, it’s as simple as that.
We can all make excuses but it boils down to the fact we weren’t good enough.
These guys are eclipsing anything that my generation and before has done, other than in 1966. Now they have a chance to become immortal.
Beat Italy, and their names are up in lights for years to come, so what an opportunity it is for them.
An environment that allows players to flourish
Squads always win you these tournaments, on the pitch and off it, and it is the same this time too.
England have not only got the quality they need with this group, they have got the right attitude and ambiance as well.
We’ve got more strength in depth than I can remember us having at any previous tournament I’ve played in or watched.
It means that, during matches, Gareth can bring people on to make an attacking impact or get through difficult moments without our level dropping the way I’ve seen happen with other teams in the past few weeks.
In our semi-final, for example, it was evident once Denmark started making substitutions that they were not as effective. We can go the other way, though – to up the ante with changes and find a way of winning a game, or see things out.
The composure we showed to do that in the final few minutes of extra-time on Wednesday, when there was so much stake, was just incredible.
That comes from the manager and it’s just part of the way Gareth has created a brilliant environment that has allowed these players to flourish.
I am fortunate in that I get to speak to a lot of the England players and I know why it’s working.
There are plenty of elements to it but I’d say the main one is that there are no egos allowed in this squad – instead everyone is very humble.
Everyone wants to be a part of this
We’ve got some exceptional players but Southgate has instilled a togetherness in the camp that feels different to what I’ve seen before.
The game has changed since I was with England, when it felt like the rivalries between players from different clubs were a bit more intense.
That kind of feeling probably still exists now, between say Manchester City and Liverpool players, but the way Southgate has managed this group since the 2018 World Cup, has not allowed it to have a detrimental effect on the squad dynamic.
When there have been incidents, like the clash between Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and City’s Raheem Sterling in 2019, Gareth has dealt with it swiftly, efficiently and effectively.
With the right communication, he has made sure the players know what is expected of them and they know he won’t accept anything else.
They have bought into it because, since Russia, Gareth has given them this idea there is a pathway to a really successful period with England – they can see where he is trying to get them to.
It seems to me that they all really want to be a part of it and every single one of them is right behind him, whether they are starting matches or not. No-one is sulking if they are left out – they all want to be a part of this, I would too.
A positive relationship with the media too
It’s clear there’s a strong bond between everyone in the squad and the staff, and I love the way they are so relaxed in front of the media too because that has helped build a better connection with the fans.
Again that comes from Southgate.
I said before Euro 2020 that I don’t think I’ve seen an England manager handle that side of things as well he has, and it is such an important part of the job.
In my time with England, we almost saw the press as enemies, who were there to trip us up. Southgate would have been in squads himself where it was very prickly between us and the media and understood how it affects players, so he has tried to change things.
Having the media in and around the group, especially in Russia and since then, has built a stronger relationship. That has helped make some people’s coverage a little bit more responsible and also meant the players are less guarded in interviews.
I don’t see them sitting there with their shields up anymore, like I might have done in the past.
There still has to be some distance, of course, but because players are not trying to protect themselves they can speak very openly and eloquently. They sound informed, and are informative whether you are watching or reading at home. It’s impressive all round.
All of this is easier to do when you are winning games, of course, but having a positive atmosphere around the camp is one of the things that helps that happen in the first place.
The hard work has paid off. Now they are in a brilliant situation where there is one game to go, at Wembley, with the whole nation behind them.
After what everyone has gone through in the past 18 months, I think the public came into this tournament waiting and hoping for something to give them a lift.
Whatever happens on Sunday, England have already done that.
Rio Ferdinand was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.