Chris NeeComment


Chris NeeComment

How they got here

UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying mercifully took place in a spell of rare calm for England, nestling in between the plumbing of new depths in South Africa and the collapse of the Football Association's relationships with two of England's protagonists. England qualified for Poland and Ukraine by finishing top of Group G with relative ease, drawing their last match but perching comfortably atop a six-point gap that was supplemented by England's goal difference.

Fabio Capello's men went unbeaten in their eight qualifying matches, beginning with a Jermain Defoe hat-trick in a thumping 4-0 win over Bulgaria. Switzerland were quickly dealt with four days later and a home point was secured against Montengro a month after that, meaning that consistency would do the trick for an England side that seems painfully incapable of anything more.

Frank Lampard and Darren Bent took the sting out of a tricky tie in Cardiff in the fourth group game, but Tranquillo Barnetta's brace meant only a draw could be gleaned from the second match against the Swiss. By last September England were on the home straight and wins over Bulgaria and Wales - one far more convincing than the other - allowed England to go to Montenegro in the final game and implode. 2-0 up through Bent and Ashley Young, England threw away their lead with the goals either side of Wayne Rooney's dismissal for kicking Miodrag Dzudovic, an offence that earned him a three-game ban. Crucially, his suspension was reduced to two games and he will play a part in June.


Why they'll win

It's not about passion, pride, fight, heart or any of the other "English" characteristics. The truth is that England won't win Euro 2012 and therein lies the major plus point for our campaign. For the first time in what seems like forever there are only limited expectations upon the players for this summer, meaning that the pressure is off and any moderate success is a bonus. For Roy Hodgson and many of the players that freedom will make a real difference, and with a little tactical nous and a good helping of luck, there's no reason they can't surprise us all and put in a strong showing.


Why they won't win

With World Cup 2010 still fresh in the memory and England's situation arguably worse than it was two years ago, it's difficult to find hope of England achieving anything more than qualifying from Group D this summer. The most well publicised problem facing them is the search for a manager, which was a farce from beginning to end. When Capello left in the wake of Hurricane Terry the FA would have been excused for taking its time, but only if it used that time to re-think its entire approach and bring in a young, visionary coach with designs on glory in ten or twelve years. Instead, England's tournament-by-tournament strategy continues and they'll be hampered by the FA's dallying. The selection of Hodgson is more of a nod to the future than an open-arms embrace.

In reality the identity of England's manager will probably have little bearing on their chances this summer. Too much of the toothless squad of 2010 - itself featuring too much of the utterly flawed "Golden Generation" - remains, meaning that England continue to rely on players who now have the best part of a decade's worth of experience of failing at international level. England won't win because they didn't begin targeting this tournament until the end of the last one, choosing instead to embrace short-termism and rely on the same, safe old names and faces. They won't win because they're not prepared.  Throw in the odd poisonous dressing room influence and one has a potent cocktail for disaster.


We've seen before

He won't be playing in the first two games but Wayne Rooney remains a player of vital importance if England are to make any meaningful impact in Poland and Ukraine this summer. But for all Rooney's qualities - the goalscoring, vision, work ethic and ingenuity that make him such a special player - there is another man for whom Euro 2012 could be a real coming of age. 25-year-old goalkeeper Joe Hart has had a wonderful Premier League season with Manchester City and is tipped for big things. Just 17 caps into his England career he is a more guaranteed starter than even Rooney, arguably making him England's very best player.

Hart has the aura of a man with a huge future. His boot and glove deal with Umbro seems to have those working for the brand salivating over the prospect of him one day being the best goalkeeper in the world. Having briefly played in the Conference, such an accolade would be testament to the hard work and constant improvement of England's number one custodian. If his dominance can help guide England through a difficult Group D fixture list intact, Hart will firmly establish himself in the national team for years to come. With foresight and planning, the rest of the squad might someday catch up with him.

Elsewhere, the England squad is brimming with experienced players that are known the world over thanks to the Premier League's global commercial success. That's unlikely to be a positive - the lauded outgoing generation should be long gone, but it forms a large percentage of the current squad and the likely starting line-up when England would be better served by looking a decade into the future and considering this competition to be a bridge between the failures of the past and the foundations of the future.


He's new

If the Football Association needs a helping hand in embracing that future - and it does - then it's fortunate that there is a generation coming through which can at least match the one it will replace, even if the structure behind it means it won't necessarily be any better. Manchester United youngster Tom Cleverly's season has been destroyed by injury but he looks capable of growing into a very assured and bright central midfielder. Euro 2012 might have been the tournament during which Arsenal's Jack Wilshere exploded onto the international scene. Unfortunately he too has suffered injuries that don't exactly bode well for his long-term prospects and have removed any hope he had of playing in Poland and Ukraine.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, might well get his chance. His selection is very different to that of Theo Walcott for World Cup 2006, and Oxlade-Chamberlain has a better chance of featuring this summer than did his team-mate six years ago. Of course, few Premier League players will be unknown quantities to international footballers and managers in Europe, but he is the closest England possess. His Arsenal career is still relatively young and he has been well protected by Arsene Wenger since he followed in Walcott's footsteps and moved to the Emirates from Southampton - with a bit of luck, England's Group D opponents won't quite have figured him out just yet.

Oxlade-Chamberlain brings more to the game than his trickery and raw talent, something beyond valuable: he smiles. The England team is, both traditionally and recently, a very serious affair, straight-laced and severe on the field regardless of the behaviour of its component parts elsewhere. The young Arsenal star is effervescent and infectious, and he plays with the kind of enjoyment we haven't seen from an England player since Paul Gascoigne. You can't put a price on that from the perspective of the supporters.


How they will play

When England hosted the Netherlands in February, interim head coach Stuart Pearce opted for a 4-2-3-1, with the midfield anchored by newly appointed captain Scott Parker and Gareth Barry. That allowed Steven Gerrard to roam in support of Adam Johnson and Ashley Young on the flanks, with Danny Welbeck leading the line. Changes were forced by Gerrard's injury and replacement by Daniel Sturridge, but although the performance at Wembley was limited it did benefit from a more balanced and coherent line-up than England usually offer. With two favourable results immediately preceding Capello's departure, it looks as if England's elite players could be best suited to a system that exploits the strengths of some players to release the attacking talents of others. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising.

In Rooney's absence the striker spot is potentially up for grabs, with the favoured candidates enjoying and enduring varying form in the final third of the Premier League season. If England plump for genuine wide players to flank the front man they could be crucial to England's fortunes. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young are options there, with Stewart Downing another possibility along with Walcott. Welbeck and Jermain Defoe could be included to narrow the nominal front three, but with true width available it will be Young who's the favourite to start on the wings.

At the back there are players from whom we know what to expect, but it's worth keeping an eye on both Gary Cahill - a real prospect for England who's keen to prove himself at international level - and on the right back spot, where Glen Johnson and Phil Jones (albeit as a versatile player) have been selected ahead of Micah Richards, who started against the Dutch in February and excelled despite being faced with Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder as the visitors focused their first half efforts down the left wing.

Of course, the appointment of Roy Hodgson as England's manager throws a potential spanner into the tactical works. The former West Bromwich Albion boss is known to favour a traditional 4-4-2 formation, and is not expected by his most vocal critics to adapt well to a different approach this summer. The possibility of playing a 4-4-2, better suited to the 1980s than to 2012, would bring back questions about central midfield pairings and strike partnerships, but England's dearth of strikers could well be enough to force the former Switzerland and Finland manager's hand. To be blunt, finding one striker at the moment is tricky enough.

England may not be magnificent at Euro 2012, but their kit, part of the St George collection by Umbro, certainly will.  You can see the full range at Kitbag.

Chris is a content editor at IBWM and also responsible for The Stiles Council, a truly sublime corner of the internet.