England fans may well have been optimistic when the draw for Euro 2012 was made in December 2011 but a lot has changed since then. Fabio Capello’s resignation in February, although not greeted with too much disappointment by fans and media alike, can not have been helpful for a team of notorious underachievers when preparing for a major international football tournament. However, I am of the opinion that Roy Hodgson’s arrival, contrary to the widespread negativity surrounding it, is exactly what England need. Roy Hodgson is a man who knows european football inside-out and this could give England a crucial tactical advantage over their opponents. Hodgson was not the fans first choice and not even the players first choice as many of the players publicly called for Harry Redknapp to be appointed much to the dislike of most Tottenham Hotspur fans, I would presume. Hodgson has made a good start as manager, the one-nil victory in Oslo, last saturday evening was perhaps dull but a win will have boosted the confidence throughout the squad and eased the pressure slightly on Hodgson and players such as Carroll and Downing who had doubts cast upon them after the squad announcement.
Hodgson’s squad caused a lot of unnecessary controversy with #hodgsonout briefly trending on twitter before dying down due to slightly less dramatic and somewhat less moronic fans defending the new man and his choice of players to lead England into battle in just over a week in Donetsk. regarding the ‘Terry/Ferdinand’ debate, I am definitely in agreement with Hodgson. There is no doubting that Rio Ferdinand is a top-class player but John Terry epitomises what it means to play for England. He puts his body on the line in every game and although he let himself down in Barcelona and has well-documented flaws off the pitch, he is dependable, brave and the man that I would want to play alongside if I were Gary Cahill or Joleon Lescott. Terry’s passion for England reminds me of the infamous Terry Butcher bloodbath against Sweden and I believe that if that were a player in the current England squad, it would be Terry. So, for me, there was no decision to make, if it was a case of Terry or Ferdinand, Hodgson made the right call. Also, Hodgson was criticised for the inclusions of Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll and although I agree neither have hit the ground running at Liverpool, Carroll has shown real signs of improvement towards the end of the season and Downing has shown in the past at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa that he has a lot of ability and so their inclusions are relatively justified. Adam Johnson, I admit, was unlucky to miss out to Downing but his first-team opportunities at Manchester City have been limited to say the least and I think his time will come in future tournaments. Downing and Carroll will probably not be starters if England progress past the group as Wayne Rooney will have returned from suspension and England have wingers in abundance with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Theo Walcott and James Milner all in contention to play in the wide areas. I feel strongly that players such as Joe Hart, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney (when available) are good enough to beat anyone on their day and so I find the complaints at the inclusions of players who will play merely a bit-part role in the tournament excessively negative and pedantic.
In terms of opposition, England have a tougher group than it would appear. France were in disarray at the 2010 World Cup but they have world-class players in Evra, Ribery, Nasri and co. and will be capable of beating England in Donetsk if they play to their potential and England fall short of theirs. Ukraine as hosts will play in a stadium dominated by their own fans cheering them on and as has been well documented, due to Sky Sports News’ Special Report and the BBC’s panorama, the Ukrainian fans are not always friendly, especially to black players and who knows how it could affect England’s black players if a racist crowd give them a hostile reception? England also have a relatively poor record against Sweden having faced them in the group-stages of World Cup 2002 & 2006 and after only achieving a draw on both occasions, the omens are not good for England against the Swedes. Despite all of that, I am optimistic about England’s chances. I believe the group will be very tight with all four teams taking points from each other. If England are to lose to France in the opening group game, I would not panic too much. Ukraine and Sweden are two teams who England are more than capable of beating but on their day are more than capable of beating France. I emphasise the need for them to beat France because winning Group D is key to progressing further than the quarter-final stage and presuming that England and France were to qualify, the gulf between opposition in the quarter finals could be vast. One would expect Spain to finish Group C as winners meaning the runner up in Group D would face them. England, although beating them in a friendly, would find the Spanish a tougher proposition in competition mode. Contrast this to the winner of Group D who will play a very beatable Italy or one of the underdogs Croatia or the Republic of Ireland and there lies the importance of winning Group D. That said, we all know how unpredictable football can be and therefore, it is impossible to say that England have any less chance of beating Spain than they do of Italy, Croatia or the Republic of Ireland.
One thing that I think has definitely helped England is the lack of expectation in the media up to this point. Newspapers such as the Sun which would normally print headlines along the lines of ‘England Expects’ have been vastly more lowkey this year. As I have always been of the impression that the expectation on the shoulders of the England team, all cranked up tenfold by the tabloid press, has hampered England in major tournaments, I could not be happier with the lack of enthusiasm about England’s chances in Euro 2012. England’s two most successful tournaments since 1966 have been Italia ’90 and Euro ’96 when pre-tournament, the press had focused on England’s weaknesses both on and off the pitch and I believe that England teams respond to criticism by playing out of their skin and I just wonder whether Euro 2012 could be another example of this. Personally, I am confident and I can’t help but think that Euro 2012 could be the year that England don’t lose on penalties, it could be the year that the key player doesn’t get sent off at the decisive moment and it could be the year that the cross which shaves the boot of the sliding centre-forward finally gets enough on it to guide it home. For once, I am quietly confident in England going into the tournament, I believe that they might just prove everybody wrong and with the slice of luck that they are well overdue and with the quality that they clearly posess, England could maybe, just maybe, finally, after 46 barren years, bring football home.
Goalkeepers: Hart, Green, Butland
Defenders: Lescott, Terry, Baines, Cahill, A Cole, Johnson, Jagielka, Jones
Midfielders: Gerrard (C), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Milner, Downing, Parker, Young, Henderson
Forwards: Rooney, Carroll, Defoe, Welbeck
June 11: France, 5pm, Donetsk
June 15: Sweden, 7.45pm, Kiev
June 19th: Ukraine, 7.45pm, Donetsk
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