Quarter-finals at best for Roy’s Euro boys

Ashley Young scored the winner in England's friendly win in Norway
Ashley Young scored the winner in England's friendly win in Norway
Steve's baby daughter made amazing progress this week, or so his wife thought

STEVE CANAVAN: It was a lot of rattle over just a little roll

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England’s record at the European Championships is abysmal for a supposed major football nation.

In 13 competitions going back to 1960, we have managed just two semi-final appearances – the last on home territory in 1996 when Terry Venables’ side were perhaps the best team on view but lost on penalties to Germany.

In that time, all the other major nations have won the tournament – and so too have unfancied Greece and Denmark.

It is hard to see that record improving this year after what has frankly been a shambolic and chaotic build up in which England were left needing to find a new coach and captain.

While rivals were putting the finishing touches to their preparations, the FA disgracefully left a power vacuum.

In under a month, Roy Hodgson, who enjoyed a 1-0 win in Norway on Saturday in his first game in charge, is being asked to prepare and organise his players, patterns on play and get a thorough knowledge of the opposition.

It will be no surprise if that thoroughly-slapdash preparation is exposed at Euro 2012.

Possibly, the low expectations of this team will remove something of the fear factor and ease the pressure on players.

For the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, it is a last chance to gain some redemption for past failures.

If that quartet can hit their form and the likes of Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, Andy Carroll and Gary Cahill can come good, it is not impossible for England to surprise a few people.

But group D is going to be hard.

England start against France, who they have failed to beat in the past five meetings, including a 2-1 defeat at Wembley last season.

The French have put together an 18-game unbeaten run under Laurent Blanc and will have Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema leading their attack, with the likes of Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery creating danger.

France left the World Cup in South Africa in disgrace after a player strike and are on a mission to make amends.

If Hodgson’s team can get a draw in Donetsk, it will be a very decent effort.

Then come Sweden, who won 3-2 in Holland to clinch their place and looked dangerous in a good win away to Croatia recently.

Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the talisman for a hard-working tough team, and although England beat them at Wembley this season, this one has the look of another draw.

That might see England needing an away win against co-hosts Ukraine in the final group game, which will be far from easy in a bear-pit atmosphere – even with Wayne Rooney back after suspension.

There is another element to the plot.

It is important to top group D because the runners-up will almost certainly be playing defending champions Spain in the quarter-finals.

All things considered then, it’s the quarter-finals at best for England.

But what about the rest of the groups?...

group a

Poland

Co-hosts have tightened up and nearly beat Germany a few months ago. They boast three of Dortumund’s title-winning team, including dangerous striker Robert Lewandowski. Kind draw but no depth in squad.

Greece

Financially crippled nation hoping to avoid an early exit from Euros. Shock 2004 winners conceded only five goals in qualifying and are dull but effective.

Russia

A tournament in eastern Europe helps a team captained by Arsenal reject Andrei Arshavin and with Premier League strikers Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak. Often flatter to deceive.

Czech Republic

Dodgy penalty decisions helped them qualify at the expense of Scotland. Struggle to score but captained by a revived Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal.

Prediction: 1 Russia 2 Poland 3 Greece 4 Czech Republic

group b

Holland

Will rely on 10 of the team who took them to that grotesque World Cup final in 2010. Van Persie, Huntelaar, Robben, Sneider and Van der Vaart underline their major chance of repeating 1988 triumph.

Germany

Good to watch my idea of the winners. Quality throughout squad, with keeper Neuer, Ozil, Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Klose, Khedira and the emerging Gotze. Defence slight worry.

Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo can’t do it alone. Made hard work of qualifying and lack a playmaker in the style of old heroes Rui Costa and Deco.

Denmark

Surprise 1992 winners have the draw from hell. Nicklas Bendtner gets key goals and young Christian Eriksen will pull strings. Will make a fight of it.

Prediction: 1 Germany 2 Holland 3 Denmark 4 Portugal

GROUP C

Spain

Defending champions ooze class but injuries to Puyol and top-scorer Villa are serious blows. As stylish as they are, might they have become a tad predictable.

Italy

Seeking redemption for awful World Cup. Coach Cesare Prandelli’s team are a work in progress, but conceded only two in qualifying and could cause a shock if key attacker Antonio Cassano has recovered after his heart op.

Ireland

Their fans will light up the tournament. Defensive discipline under Italian coach Trapattoni makes them tough to beat. Must beat Croatia in opening game to have any chance in this company.

Croatia

With Spurs creator Luka Modric and Everton striker Nikica Jelavic, they might be dangerous and have a good record against Italy. Poor defence might find them out.

Prediction: 1 Spain 2 Italy 3 Ireland 4 Croatia