As the dust settled in Kiev and the Swedes prepared for their flight home, England fans were starting to believe their makeshift team might actually have a decent chance at Euro 2012. With so many injuries and suspensions hampering the new manager’s preparations, expectation was as low as it had ever been but Friday’s 2-3 victory over Sweden has renewed supporter’s faith. In a typically fickle reaction, the English media are now building up the hopes of the nation but the reality is the team are unlikely to progress past the next round. With a potential banana skin against co-hosts Ukraine expected to be followed by Spain or Italy in the first knockout round, realistically how far can England hope to progress?
Despite the potential permutations being all ifs and buts, chances are England will face Spain in the next round. Unless they can win their group by earning a better result against Ukraine than the French gain against Sweden, England will finish 2nd in Group D meaning only a surprise from Croatia will stop the reigning World and European champions from topping Group C and facing Roy Hodgson’s troops. It will be a daunting test for the Three Lions’ ramshackle squad but while fans would have to suffer through 90 plus minutes of backs to the wall defending, England actually beat Spain the last time the two nations met so a shock result isn’t all that impossible. While few would criticise them should they fall to a side tipped as the eventual winners, former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp believes England could still turn a few heads.
“Before the tournament, I said organisation in defence was key but, against the Swedes, England showed how threatening they are up front.
“Every other team at the Euros will have taken note and nobody will fancy playing us.
“England have a scary looking attack. Frankly, I wouldn’t swap England’s front six for any at this tournament – including Spain’s.”
That’s quite a commendation from the man overlooked by the FA in favour of Hodgson but his positivity is refreshing albeit dripping with bias overtones. Patriotism aside, few would agree that England’s forwards are as good as Spain’s but Redknapp is right to champion a group of more than capable footballers. England’s squad has a blend of seasoned match winners and exciting young talent all with European experience so why wouldn’t other nations be wary of facing them?
The tag of favourites may have been bestowed on more deserving nations but returning forward Wayne Rooney believes in his teammate’s chances and after seeing out a two match ban is confident he and his colleagues can progress a fair distance in Poland and Ukraine.
“We are hard to beat now. If we keep doing that and keep working hard then there’s no reason we can’t go really far and be in with a shout of winning it.
“If you want to win tournaments you have to play the best teams and how much of a boost would it be for us if we were to play Spain and beat them? How much confidence would that give us?”
It certainly would fill the nation with pride but England’s cagey victory against the Spanish at Wembley in November isn’t exactly a blueprint for success. The home side had just 3 goal attempts to the visitors 21 and allowed them 71% possession so a repeat of that performance wouldn’t suffice. England can’t rely on a lucky tap in from Frank Lampard every time but that hasn’t distracted Rooney from believing in England’s chances, even if he understands they’ll need some good fortune along the way.
“I think we’re good enough. I know everyone doesn’t want us to build expectations up but I firmly believe we have got the players.
“Obviously you need a bit of luck as well, but we’ve got a good opportunity. We’ve got the squad and are more organised than we have been as long as I’ve been in the squad.”
Despite his positivity, reservations still exist regarding Hodgson’s defensive tactics and a narrow win against Sweden hasn’t convinced anyone that England can genuinely win the competition. With so many top nations involved, a quarterfinal appearance would still constitute a decent showing for a team written off before the tournament even started. The majority supporters’ pretournament predictions placed England as rank outsiders so a blockbuster knockout tie against a strong nation would still give followers the heart pounding summer occasion they expect from an International competition.
Because of the players at their disposal, England are part of an elite group of nations in with a chance of winning any tournament so finishing in what is technically the top 8 is no mean feat. There would also be no shame in losing to Spain, or the Italians for that matter, but Croatia and Italy could both offer a decent chance of progressing to the semi-finals should circumstances dictate. Beyond that it’s anyone’s guess for no one can predict the various coming events but even if things do go pear shaped, England fans should be proud just to see their team challenge the best nations in the world.
Spirits may be high after their recent face saving comeback but few would begrudge them a heroic yet inevitable defeat in the latter rounds. Rather than moan when unrealistic expectations aren’t exceeded, fans should enjoy England’s efforts for as long they possibly can. Things may seem positive at the moment but the underlying reality is nobody would be that surprised if Ukraine sent them packing tomorrow evening.
Will England beat Ukraine to reach the knockout rounds? Do you think England can win Euro 2012? Can they beat the likes of Spain to progress in the tournament?
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