CaughtOffside correspondent Jason Mitchell takes a closer look at the participants at next month’s Euro 2012 finals.
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It is very easy to portray England’s preparation for Euro 2012 as being completely disasterous. They go into the tournament knowing that their star striker, Wayne Rooney, will miss the first two matches through suspension because of a silly red card picked up against Montenegro in the qualifiers. Chelsea’s John Terry became involved in yet another controversy during the season, after he was alleged to have made racist remarks to QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. Terry was subsequently stripped of the England captaincy and that decision led to Fabio Capello stepping down as England manager. The current manager, Roy Hodgson, only took over the job on 14 May 2012, giving him less than a month to prepare his side for the tournament.
Even in the weeks since taking over the job, Hodgson has not had it easy. Gareth Barry has pulled out of the side through injury at the last minute. Kyle Walker, who Hodgson admitted was his preference for the right-back slot, is also injured and large sections of the English media are already against the new manager, who was offered the job ahead of the more media-friendly Harry Redknapp.
However, despite all this negativity, there are also plenty of positives to be taken from England’s road to the European Championships. For a start, the team qualified for the tournament by finishing top of their group, and remained unbeaten throughout qualification. In fact, England were unbeaten in all of 2011, a year which also included a friendly victory over the World and European champions, Spain.
Of course, that was under the guidance of Fabio Capello, but Roy Hodgson got off to a winning beginning in his first game in charge, a 1-0 win over Norway in Oslo, courtesy of Ashley Young’s first half strike.
After a disappointing start to the season, and indeed to his Liverpool career in general, £35 million man Andy Carroll managed to find some late-season form and looks likely to spearhead the England attack this summer; at least during Rooney’s absence. Meanwhile, Theo Walcott goes into the tournament off the back of his most productive ever season. The flying winger, often criticised for a perceived lack of end product, weighed in with 11 goals and 13 assists for Arsenal in a season which finally saw him begin to live up to his potential.
Hot prospect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been included in Hodgson’s squad and the teenager, still just 18-years-old, has the potential to spark optimism amongst England supporters with his approach to the game, if given a chance.
“I play with no fear,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “I run at players, regardless of who they are and try to make a difference. I have a youthful enthusiasm and I am so excited about this.”
In addition, Chelsea players Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard all go into the tournament off the back of lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy, while Premier League-winning goalkeeper Joe Hart has firmly established himself as not only England’s number 1, but also one of the best keepers in the world.
Yet, despite the positive aspects, Hodgson’s England squad selection does still raise some questions. The omission of Manchester City’s Micah Richards seems odd, especially given the injury to Kyle Walker and his ability to play in central defence as well as right-back. Stewart Downing has been selected, despite a season in which the winger failed to register a single goal or assist in the Premier League. If England fail to perform, questions will no doubt be asked about why Aaron Lennon, Adam Johnson, Michael Carrick and Daniel Sturridge were left at home.
In truth, England enter the tournament very much as outsiders to win the tournament, which may not be a bad thing. Expectation levels back at home during past major international tournaments have often been criticised for being unrealistic. England’s underdog status may well work to their favour. Although many bookies are tipping the team to fail to make it past the group stage, with a bit of good fortune, some organisation and perhaps some inspiration from Wayne Rooney when he returns, England can not be written off entirely. After all, they are only a few months removed from their victory over Spain and nobody backed Greece to win in 2004.
However, with their star striker missing, a dressing room potentially divided by the John Terry saga and a new manager dropped into the deep end, success seems a long-shot.
England begin their Euro 2012 campaign against France, in Donetsk, on 11 June.
Possible First-Choice Starting XI
Glen Johnson — Gary Cahill — John Terry — Ashley Cole
Scott Parker — Steven Gerrard
Theo Walcott – Wayne Rooney – Ashley Young
Joe Hart, Rob Green, Jack Butland; Glen Johnson, Phil Jones, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole; Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Ashley Young, James Milner; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe