England expects no more but Euro 2012 promises to be a feast of football
A CRUEL injury crisis depriving him of some of the country’s best young talent and a media storm over his selection policy.
Throw in Wayne Rooney’s foolish two-match suspension and Roy Hodgson must be wondering what he has taken on, in the poisoned chalice that the England job has become.
Look at it another way. Expectations have never been at a lower ebb. The proclaimed golden generation is a laughable notion of the past and even the most optimistic supporter would proclaim merely qualifying from Group D as a form of success.
Not that he would, but Hodgson himself can hide behind the fact he was appointed just 38 days ago to the hottest hot-seat in English football.
He could point to Rooney’s moment of madness and Jack Wilshere’s injury before his arrival and a jinx that has seen him lose Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Gary Cahill since.
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It all adds to a sense of trepidation as the Three Lions prepare for a vital first match against France, face old foes Sweden and then, with Rooney back in the fold, a final match against co-hosts Ukraine.
It is a group that even a depleted England should go into with a degree of confidence, but a quarter-final spot will be an achievement – a far cry from the high-expectancy of recent times.
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If watching the national side will be as a painful as always, the European Championships, which start tonight, should offer something for every football fan.
Tournament favourites Spain have a chance to rip up the record books by becoming the first country to win three straight major championships.
But they won’t have it all their own way. Germany proved their undoubted promise in the last World Cup, so two years on they should be there or thereabouts.
As might the Netherlands if Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie can bring their club form to Poland and Ukraine. The only problem the Germans and the Dutch might face is that they have been drawn together in the ‘Group of Death’ along with Portugal and Denmark – meaning qualification is not even a formality.
Then there is the Italians who go into the competition under a black cloud of match-fixing allegations, something that might actually bond the team together as they look to bring a much-needed footballing smile back to the country.
My tip for the tournament is England’s first opponents, the French. If sources close to the team are to be believed, manager Laurent Blanc has finally stabilised Les Bleus and one look at their squad strength is enough to make anyone shiver.
The 16-team nature of the Euros – well at least until France 2016 ludicrously expands to 24 – means there are none of the weak links of a World Cup. Russia and Poland are among potential dark horses and if the Republic of Ireland’s preparations can be matched by performances on the pitch, don’t write them off completely either.
It promises to be a mouthwatering 23-day, 31-game feast of football.