Euro 2012: Manchester United’s Welbeck holds the key for England to a memorable campaign
On the 11th of June England kick off their first European tournament for eight years against Laurent Blanc’s France. A French team that was disgraced in South Africa two years ago finishing bottom of their group having suffered defeats at the hands of Mexico and host nation South Africa. Off the pitch disputes meant the team refused to train leading to Nicolas Anelka being sent home from the tournament and many senior players receiving lengthy International bans for their roles in the disruptions. Now however Les Bleus come into the tournament as one of the form sides in Europe and as favourites to progress in first place in Group D.
England come into the tournament with a new manager, Injury problems, and a former captain seemingly doing everything in his power to disrupt preparations with a Twitter rant at his failure to be selected for the Tournament. Selfish perhaps, but being overlooked for young Liverpool defender Martin Kelly, a player with only 8 minutes Senior International experience and only 24 Liverpool appearances in 5 years, would be enough to make an experienced campaigner like Ferdinand feel slightly hard done by. It would certainly appear that Roy Hodgson’s claims that his original omission from the squad for ‘footballing reasons’ was an attempt at brushing the real facts under the carpet.
Joining England and France in Group D are Sweden, a team England have never beaten at a major tournament in 4 World Cup matches and 3 European Championship matches, and co-hosts Ukraine who face England in the last and most likely crucial game of the Group in a hostile Donetsk on June the 19th. Their can be no doubt that although England have not been drawn in the Tournaments ‘Group of Death’, a phrase first coined by Mexican Journalists during the 1970 world cup to describe England’s group which included Brazil, Romania and Czechoslovakia, England have certainly been given an Uphill task.
With warm up victories against Norway and Belgium both by 1-0 margins it has been a solid if fairly unspectacular start to the Hodgson era. Whilst England looked solid at the back in the two matches that have been played they have been dealt a blow in the form of the Broken Jaw sustained by Gary Cahill, the man many consider to be the rock in England’s back four. His absence is likely to mean a starting place for either Jolean Lescott or Phil Jagielka, which also means John Terry, is likely to shift to the right side of central Defence. The last time he played there for England was in the 4-1 thrashing in South Africa when Germany exploited all of his weaknesses, drawing him towards the ball leaving space for Miroslav Klose in behind to punish England leaving Terry largely responsible for the first goal in particular that all but dumped England out of what was already a dismal tournament. His performance was forgotten in the midst of the Goal line technology debate sparked by the official’s failure to award a goal for a Frank Lampard effort that crossed the line by a yard at least.
England will also be hit hard by the absence of Wayne Rooney for the first two Group Matches. His ban coming after a petulant kick out at an opponent in England’s final qualifying game against Montenegro, the 2-2 draw sealing England’s spot at European footballs showpiece event. It means that Hodgson has to choose between Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll or Jermaine Defoe. Welbeck appears to be the first choice to take the starting spot, he scored 9 goals in 30 appearances for the Manchester United while Andy Carroll only began to show glimpses of the talent we know he possesses towards the end of what was a disappointing season for Liverpool. As for Defoe he continues to be a natural goal scorer with an impressive tally of 17 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions this season. However for me Welbeck looks as though he will be given the chance, his classy finish against Belgium in the face of the onrushing Keeper Simon Minoglet showed a composure not usually found in a 22 year old. He also offers the pace that Carroll severely lacks meaning on the break Welbeck is a more effective weapon.
As for the midfield the injury’s sustained to Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry are blows but they also mean Hodgson will not have the selection problems that he otherwise might have faced. It looks as though Gerrard and Parker will occupy the centre of the midfield with Ashley Young playing in the hole behind a lone striker. Out wide there is the choice of versatile James Milner, Stewart Downing or the pace of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It appears that only one of the two Arsenal men would start out wide with the other flank being occupied by either Downing or Milner.
So for the first time in a while England comes into a Major tournament with relatively low expectations and injuries and suspensions making the task look even harder. All of this may well work for England. However England’s chances of success will all be discovered in the opening game against France on the 11th. Get a result in that game without Rooney and people will start to believe. After all finishing 1st in the group looks to be crucial, the second place team are likely to face Spain in the Quarterfinals. An unenviable task that would most likely mean the end of England’s tournament, unless of course the Chelsea players in the squad can help rediscover the form they showed in their lucky but well deserved Champions League run. Get turned over by France however and with two tough games to come afterwards it may prove too much for England to progress from Group D.
I remain quietly confident that England can make their mark at the Euros. After all not many will ever forget the Denmark team in 1992 who upset all the odds to become champions having only qualified at the expense of Yugoslavia who were under sanctions by the UN Security Council Resolution 757 and thus banned from appearing. The key however will be how quickly Danny Welbeck can cope with a nations hopes resting on his inexperienced shoulders and whether he can set down the platform for Rooney when he eventually comes in to shine in a Tournament that he set alight in 2004 at the tender age of 18. If England can get a result against France then they can build on those foundations and they might be on the verge of something a little bit special.