A couple of weeks ago, England were without a manager or a captain, after Fabio Capello departed in February – following the debacle of the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy as a result of being charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League game. Since then, Roy Hodgson – and not Harry Redknapp as many expected – has been appointed manager. The delay in appointing a manager has led to expectations being lower by fans for the forthcoming tournament.
Qualification was achieved – as England under Capello – remained undefeated in their qualifying group, it must be said, it wasn’t one of the most taxing of groups as winning five and drawing three of their eight games, thus topping their group with 18 points and finishing six clear of second placed Montenegro.
England, major tournament, injuries and controversy almost go hand-in-hand. Wayne Rooney is already suspended for the first two group games but injuries, withdrawals and refusals have punctuated Hodgson’s squad leaving it seriously depleted. Jack Wilshere and Darren Bent have missed large chunks of the season through injury, while Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Kyle Walker have either pulled up or pulled out after suffering injuries in warm up games and training.
It is fair to say that preparation both on and off the field has been far from ideal for Hodgson, with controversy over Rio Ferdinand’s non-selection and Micah Richards’ refusal to bet put on the stand-by list. Hodgson has also come under-fire for certain selections he made when naming his original final 23-man squad, and perhaps rightly so. However, he has had the opportunity to test various formations and personnel in the two warm up games against Norway and Belgium, both of which England won 1-0. The new Greece?
The first group game against France, will probably tell us a lot about how the rest of the group will pan out. Until last November, England had not beaten Sweden since 1968, while Ukraine will be on home turf and will have the crowd on this side. This group could well be damage limitations for England as there is a fine line between success (qualification) and failure (crashing out).
Fixtures: England vs. France (June, 11th), England vs. Sweden (June, 15th) and England vs. Ukraine (June, 19th)