Thoughts of England winning Euro 2012 should be secondary thanks to the team’s troubled lead-in. It should all be about the learning for brighter days ahead says Shaka Hislop
It’s strange to see England go into a tournament with such little expectation. The messy situation Roy Hodgson has inherited seems to have dampened the usual hype you normally see around the team. It’s no bad thing. Normally they’re doomed to disappoint a nation, but this time around a run to the semi-finals would surely count as progress.
It’s early days in the Hodgson era, but there are some good signs. In his two friendlies, England were a well organised and disciplined side. They didn’t dominate in the way some people would like, but they have some real strengths heading into the tournament.
With Welbeck, Young and Walcott, they’ve got real pace and are well set-up to play on the counter attack. Added to the mix is Ashley Cole, who is simply one of the best left-backs in the world, let alone Europe. They’ll be dangerous on the break.
England have been unlucky with injuries, especially in defence, but Roy will have whatever team he puts out there well-drilled. That counts for a lot in international football were the margins are generally very thin. With France playing well, it’s hard to see England claiming top spot and that means big trouble. With Spain likely to top Group C, it would make getting further than a quarter-final nearly impossible. If however, they started with a win over France and got the right results against Sweden and then Ukraine, topping the group could be huge. That would most likely mean playing Italy, Croatia or the Republic of Ireland – all of which are substantially more achievable challenges.
It’s something of a freebie for Hodgson. With all the turmoil surrounding England in the last few months, he’s done well to steady the ship. There was criticism of the way he handled the Rio Ferdinand and John Terry issue. I can see it from both sides. I totally sympathise with Rio, but I can see legitimate footballing reasons for his omission. In a squad like this, you don’t really need two centre backs over the age of 30 with a lack of pace. The leadership and experience of one will suffice and Hodgson clearly believes Terry is the better defender.
England will get out of their group, most likely as a runner-up. That puts them on course for Spain in the quarter-final and that’s where the story could end. It’s not crucial for Roy on this occasion, but he’ll be expected to deliver in future. Hopefully England can make progress deep into the tournament, but the more realistic aim is that everyone involved learns from the experience and they’re better placed for success in 2014.