England are probably the team whose preparation has been least ideal ahead of Euro 2012. The resignation of Fabio Capello earlier this year after furore caused by stripping John Terry of the captain’s armband created instability at a crucial moment. And Roy Hodgson was confirmed as the man to replace the Italian.
Capello had guided England through the Euro 2012 qualifiers impressively, with Bulgaria, Switzerland, Wales and Montenegro comfortably swept aside. There was cause for optimism after a highly disciplined display helped England secure a 1-0 win over the world champions Spain, but that was to be Capello’s last game. England now enter this tournament in an unusual position, with the media the most sceptical they have been before a major finals for decades.
Many of the older generation are viewed dismissively after years of underachievement at international level, but Ashley Cole and John Terry have just won the Champions League. Without the pressure and expectation back home, the squad ironically may have more freedom to express themselves and realise their potential. But few will harbour any real hope of a tournament triumph.
In The Dugout – Roy Hodgson
Hodgson is in the unusual position of having the first squad he names be the one he takes to this summer’s European Championship. Luckily for the man appointed to take over from Fabio Capello, he has done this before, with Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup. Many had thought Harry Redknapp would take over as manager for this summer, but Hodgson’s quiet dependability won him the role.
The former Inter Milan and Liverpool boss arrives with a wealth of experience from all over the world, and with a particular knowledge of the Swedish game from his time with Halmstads and Malmo he may be able to help England get over their tournament jinx against the Scandinavians, who have never lost a competitive game between the sides.
Key Player: Wayne Rooney
It says much for the quality of the England squad that their most important player will only get to play one group game. Rooney is England’s most talented performer by some distance at present. Though Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tom Cleverley offer optimism for the future, it is Rooney who is key to all that is good about England. He suffered at the last World Cup, and often struggled when deprived of space and service. The Manchester United man may need to be played alongside another forward to create the space to get the best out of him, but that is the system Hodgson usually tends to play. And if he does that, Rooney could be crucial in the final group game against Ukraine. If England can emerge from the group, the forward will be able to shine with fresh legs.
View from England
England come into Euro 2012 for the first time in years without expectations. Though some optimistic souls thought the draw was favourable, there are few who believe England can really go all the way. The main cause for hope are the youngsters coming through. Joe Hart in goal is one of the few top class players in the squad, but anything more than a last eight place will be considered a bonus.
It is difficult to see England being able to beat France, and Hodgson’s teams tend to take a while to get used to his style and playing philosophy. His tactical acumen could ensure England at least have shape and a good defence, but they would do well to reach the quarter-finals. With vast experience to add to a defensive solidity, the Three Lions should be good enough to roar past Sweden and Ukraine and do just that.