Tuesday, 5 June 2012

England: Euro 2012 preview

The football season is over, the squad has been selected and the pre tournament friendlies have been played. In  a few days time, Euro 2012 starts seeing 16 teams battling it out to be crowned European champions. Having missed out four years ago in Austria and Switzerland, England booked their place in this years Championships confidently topping their qualifying group. Under the management of Fabio Capello, the Three Lions cruised past their group opponents winning five of their nine games, and drawing three in their eight game campaign.

picture: thesoccerroom.com
Since then, many changes have been made in the England camp, with a new manager and captain installed. After much debate of who would replace Capello, Roy Hodgson was revealed to be the man to guide England in the Euros and beyond. With a court case hovering heavily over his head, John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy, giving Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard the chance to captain England in the upcoming Championships. The midfielder will have to perform to his greatest if England are to come out of the tournament successful.

For the first time in a while, England go into the tournament with the pressure off and expectation low. Hodgson's squad selection caused raised eyebrows here and there after leaving Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand out. Having seen Gary Cahill ruled out of the tournament, Liverpool defender Martin Kelly was drafted in, suggesting a future for England is potentially disappearing for Ferdinand. Alongside Cahill, midfielders Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard are also out through injuries meaning heavy responsibility sits on Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to pull the stings in midfield.

picture: pictures.metro.co.uk
Since taking charge, Hodgson has won both of his games beating Norway and Belgium 1-0 in England's two pre tournament friendlies. The former West Brom boss has clearly organised the team the way he wants with England looking very solid defensively. Both the goals scored in these friendlies came from a counter attack which looks like a key tactic for England going into the tournament. With the absence of Wayne Rooney in the first two group games, Hodgson looks set to continue playing the one striker up front and piling the midfield with attacking flare. The main decision he will have to make come Monday will be whether he plays Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll. Both strikers impressed in their respective games, linking with Ashley Young particularly well. It will be Welbeck though that looks set to get the nod after scoring a wonderful goal against Belgium at the weekend.

Opponents come in the form of France, Sweden and Ukraine with the French the first group game next Monday. The last time England faced them in a major tournament was back in 2004 where two late Zinedine Zidane goals clinched victory. Having failed to pass the group stage at the World Cup two years ago, the French have improved significantly under boss Laurent Blanc. France's front four will be the danger for England, with Ribery, Nasri, Benzema and Ben Arfa leading the line. Benzema has had an excellent season for Real Madrid and is certain to continue this from going into the Championships. Sweden and Ukraine are the other teams England will have to beat if they are to reach the quarter finals.

Vasyl Kobin Vasyl Kobin of the Ukraine is challenged by Wayne Rooney of England during the FIFA 2010 World Cup Group 6 Qualifying match between Ukraine and England at the Dnipro Arena on October 10, 2009 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.
picture: zimbio.com
A 1-0 friendly win at Wembley over Sweden last November was the last fixture between the sides. The Swedes will be difficult opponents for England and will look likely candidates alongside England to reach the quarters with France. Going by the form book, Ukraine should be a doddle for England. The teams last met in 2009 where the Ukrainians beat England 1-0 in Kiev. The game turned out to be meaningless for England as they has already secured qualification to the World Cup. England had beaten Ukraine 2-1 at Wembley months before. Co-hosting the tournament, Ukraine automatically qualified for the tournament. Without a qualifying campaign to play, Ukraine have prepared with a whole host of friendlies. Results though have been generally disappointing. Striker Andriy Shevchenko will lead his country for probably the last time with persistent back problems meaning the former Chelsea striker will have to call it a day on his playing career after the tournament.

With expectation low, England can go into the tournament with nothing to lose. Defensively, England have looked fairly solid and having kept two clean sheets in the recent friendlies, teams may struggle to break them down. In goal, England may have the best keeper in the world at the moment. Joe Hart has been excellent for Manchester City this season, and with his presence and confidence in goal, we go into a tournament with a guaranteed first choice keeper. Hitting teams on the counter attack may be the best bet for England going into the tournament and if it means winning games 1-0 each time then no-one will complain. Anything past the group stages will be seen as a success for the team and something for Hodgson to build on for the up and coming World Cup qualifying campaign. It's time to get behind the team, support the boys and hope that maybe, just maybe we can pull it off!

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