Euro 2012 Preview: England
I’m not sure we need much of an introduction to England. After all we are the nation that invented football. And won some World Wars; the link between the two is unbeknownst to me but certain songs at the former often regard the latter, so there’s probably a connection somewhere. Anyway, England. The perennial disappointments.
We once won a World Cup, in 1966. Did you know that?
Regarding the Euros, we have not been particularly successful but we reached the semis on our own turf at Euro ’96, and in ’68 we finished third. The latter achievement is somewhat tarnished by the fact there were only four teams competing in the whole tournament.
So just why are we so disappointing? Partly because of unrealistic expectations. There’s never been a tournament at which large swathes of England fans have not believed we could go on to win. I bet some people even thought we could win Euro 2008 (we weren’t in it, the only seeded team not to qualify). And partly because we fail to add up to the sum of our parts – we have produced some ‘Genuinely World-Class Talent’ but it almost always fails to show on the big stage.
How Did They Qualify?
Piece of cake. Unbeaten in all our matches, winning five, drawing three, letting in just five goals while scoring 17. Fabio Capello broke away from 4-4-2 and opted for a more appropriate 4-2-3-1, which served us well. A double victory over Wales was sweet, but sour came in the form of Wayne Rooney’s dismissal for violent conduct (read petulant stupidity) which sees him banned for the first two games of the tournament.
At last, we have one. Not the one that the press, and, if you believe them, a huge amount of the public were demanding, in Harry Redknapp, but instead Roy Hodgson. I believe Hodgson was the right choice for the job. As far as Euro 2012 goes, if we were choosing a gaffer just for the tournament, I’d have gone for Redknapp. A motivator, a chancer, someone who could produce something brilliant.
But for a long-term, stable option, Hodgson is the best choice. Even if Liverpool fans would claim otherwise. Hodgson is someone the players should respect and look up to – not to say that they will – and someone wise and well-spoken (regardless of his speech impediment, which The Sun highlighted in cringeworthy fashion on the day of his appointment).
Whether he’ll stick to Capello’s formation remains to be seen. The squad he has picked has raised some eyebrows; Stewart Downing and Phil Jones being included, while Micah Richards and Michael Carrick being excluded has not been backed by many. Jordan Henderson being on the back-up list is also bizarre.
The appointment of Steven Gerrard as captain is also dubious. Going by this form this season – when he hasn’t been injured – he’d be lucky to get a place in the starting XI let along lead them out.
Joe Hart – 25 – Goalkeeper
England’s first world-class goalkeeper for a while, Hart will need to be at the top of his game if the Three Lions are to go deep at Euro 2012. Capable of the astonishing but also able to do the simple things well. Could be the country’s stopper for the next decade.
Ashley Cole – 31 – Left-back
England’s most consistent player for the last decade, Cole has rarely failed to impress, even when everybody else is losing their head. Under Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea he is again delivering the exhilarating performances we know he is capable of, after a dip in form under Andre Villas-Boas. The best left-back at the tournament and in the world.
Wayne Rooney – 26 – Striker
Banned for the first two games of the tournament, Rooney’s absence could cost England progress from their group. But if they can find enough in them to get two good results in the opening games, the rest could do Manchester United’s frontman well. Capable of turning mediocre into magic. He has not been at his best this season but would still win the top Premier League goalscorer award, if it wasn’t for Robin Van Persie’s amazing form.
Depends on the formation Hodgson chooses, and how the players perform in the warm-up matches. Going by form, and with Capello’s 4-2-3-1, something like this would be about right:
Hart; Johnson, Jones, Terry, Cole; Parker, Barry; Walcott, Gerrard, Young; Rooney
But who knows what Hodgson will plump for? Danny Welbeck or even Andy Carroll could start the first two games in Rooney’s absence. Personally, I’d opt for Lampard in one of the deeper midfield roles, as he has shown his ability for Chelsea there in the latter half of the season. But he’s out, which solves the ‘Gerrard or Lampard’ debate.
How Far Can They Go?
All the way to the final. Yeah, unrealistic expectations, I know. But England have always been unpredictable (apart from the part where they scrape their way to the quarters and then get kicked out on penalties, etc), and with a new manager, it’s harder to work them out than usual. In truth, the group could be tough – France and Sweden are dangerous and Ukraine will have home support. Each team will believe they can progress. If England do get through, they will face either Spain or Italy. And the sensible thing to do would be to predict that’s where their adventure will end. But you never know…