Three Lions doomsayers are out of line
The 2012 UEFA European Championships kickoff in Warsaw, Poland tomorrow night, and for once England enter a major tournament without the burden of a nation’s expectation weighing heavily on their shoulders.
Ravaged with injury, missing Wayne Rooney for the first two games, and with a less than smooth build up, English fans have little to no hope that their team can mount any sort of challenge at this year’s tournament.
But why? Lets not forget this is still a squad containing the likes of Premier League winning keeper Joe Hart, Champions League winners John Terry and Ashley Cole, and perhaps a fresh Wayne Rooney if they can negotiate group D and reach the knockout phase.
The injuries to Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshire are the two main causes for concern. It has left the Three Lions looking short of quality in midfield. But lets not forget that Lampard and Gerrard have failed to dominate together for over a decade for their country. And with Gerrard named as skipper, there is a big chance Lampard would have been starting most of the games from the bench.
Also with the emergence of Scott Parker as the combative midfielder, who will work and tackle all day, would young Wilshire even be the preferred option to start?
Gary Cahill’s broken jaw and his subsequent replacement, Liverpool’s Martin Kelly, have been a cause for much debate. Cahill was cowardly pushed by Belgian’s Dries Mertens in the meaningless lead up friendly, addindgto the mounting injury crisis within the squad. But manager Roy Hodgson’s decision to pick Kelly ahead of Three Lions Legend Rio Ferdinand has been perceived as a direct decision relating to the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand race row case.
Terry is accused of racially abusing Rio’s brother Anton and will face court after the tournament has finished. But Hodgson’s decision is more tactical than political. England had already called in a centre back after Gareth Barry was ruled out in Everton’s Phil Jagielka. And the fact Joleon Lescott has had such a stellar year for Champions Manchester City and played with Jagielka at club level, Rio would of struggled for a look in.
The versatile Phil Jones is also a natural centre back so they are well stocked in that area. It would seem Kelly has been drafted in as a direct back up to Liverpool team-mate Glen Johnson at right back, with Leighton Baines covering Ashley Cole on the left. That starting back four is as solid as any in the tournament. Kelly is simply providing depth to the squad.
Rooney’s moment of madness against Montenegro in the qualifiers could come back to haunt his country. But with Danny Welbeck scoring a fine goal against Belgium and Andy Carroll finishing the season strongly, there is room for optimism that England will still be capable of finding the net in his absence. Jermain Defoe is only there as a sub, but he has lightning pace and an ability to pick up the tempo of a match and could be very dangerous. If England can come through the first two games in relatively good shape, Rooney will be fresh and ready to put his stamp on the tournament.
On the flanks, Ashley Young is in great form and has been providing goals and assists for both United and England. On his day Theo Walcott can be a game breaker. Electrifying pace and an ability to beat defenders, sometimes his decision making can let him down. If it comes together for him, he will provide great support for the strikers and strike fear in the opposition. They also have rookie Arsenal teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain waiting in the wings, who has proved he can handle the big occasion and will provide plenty of enthusiasm.
Even though Roy Hodgson was only appointed England manager a month ago, we have seen in the past what this new injection of ideas and change can do to results. Take Chelsea as prime examples. Once Andre Villas-Boas was sacked and replaced by Roberto DiMatteo, Chelsea’s season completely took off, finishing as FA cup winners and Champions League Glory. With a new man at the helm of England, the players will be trying to impress and prove a lot of people wrong.
The weight of expectation may be lower than normal for England, but by no means are they Euro also rans. They may not be grabbing the headlines for the same reasons as European heavyweights Spain, Germany and Holland. But nor are they in the same bracket as minnows Denmark and Greece, who upset the odds to win the tournament in the past. They are still in with a great chance and anything less than a semifinal would, and should, be deemed a failure.
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