If they were a pop star they'd be...
Their greatest success came in the 1960s and they’ve been dining out on that ever since. Worryingly, there will still be people out there who will believe that a much-hyped trip to Eastern Europe to compete against younger, fresher, more imaginative opponents will be a good idea. It is NOT a good idea and we won’t get very far through this tournament before that becomes all too obvious and we lose to Sweden.
When it comes to forcing ordinary teams to play slightly above themselves, Roy Hodgson is an expert. With that in mind, he’s actually a very astute choice for England. He didn’t do very well with Liverpool, which is why we’re all a little surprised that he’s picked half of their first team, but Fulham and West Bromwich Albion supporters think he’s ace. He’s well-travelled, well-liked across Europe and, let’s face it, he’s the best we’re going to get these days.
Having lost one senior player every hour on the hour since last week, England’s biggest selection dilemma is going to be finding enough footballers to fill the bench. In fairness, the bulk of the team – goalkeeper, fullbacks, one of the centre-backs, central midfield and the striker – pick themselves. It’s simply a case of finding a partner for John Terry (stop giggling at the back) and deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to play Stewart Downing. I think we all know the answer to that one, don’t we? Don’t we?
Expectation/mood back home
In my lifetime, I have never known lower expectations than this. The general consensus is that England will bow out against the first decent team they face, the only debate is whether Sweden or Ukraine count as ‘decent’. Personally, I think they do and we’ll struggle to qualify. Alan Shearer was widely mocked in midweek for suggesting that England could reach the semi-finals, though even he had to admit that he was saying it purely because he was a patriot. No-one seriously thinks that will happen.
Weirdly, given that he struggled for so long last season, Andy Carroll is the man who will determine his nation’s fortunes. If he can display the kind of form he showed for Liverpool in the final month of the season, he could be a real handful. If he displays the kind of form he showed for Liverpool in the eight months prior to that, we’re in an awful lot of trouble.
Most likely to be top scorer
Steven Gerrard with two snapshots, both smashed home from the edge of the penalty area. The first one will mark the falsest of dawns against France and will precede a three goal second half response from Laurent Blanc’s side. The second will come against Ukraine in the final minute of the final game, salvaging a single point from a miserable summer. Gerrard is at 8.50 to be the top English goalscorer.
Most likely to get sent off
Wayne Rooney will miss the first two games for kicking an Macedonian footballer up the bum in qualifying and I wouldn’t bet against him leaving the field early in the final game for a similar assault. You can tell how frustrated Rooney is by how deep he plays. He’ll be playing at right-back when he shoves Andrey Shevchenko into the stands and attempts to beat him to death with his own boot.
Three unknowns to keep an eye out for
With Glen Johnson carrying a knock, we might see a bit of Martin Kelly. His inclusion has caused great controversy, but he’s an exceptional full-back and he won’t let anyone down. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has matured far faster than anyone expected at Arsenal and Hodgson thinks the world of him, so he could make his mark off the bench. And who knows? Maybe this will be the moment that Stewart Downing chooses to prove that he’s worth….Ha! No, it’s no good. I knew I couldn’t type that with a straight face…
We'lll finish third in the Group. England not to qualify from Group stage at 2.15.