Last Saturday night England were going to win the Boat Race, Eurovision Song Contest and Grand National. Seventy-two hours later they were beaten at home by a side who have not qualified for the finals of Euro 2016 and were also-rans. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle but bravery in team selection from Roy Hodgson can see England win their first major trophy outside the country.
A Wales side with Gareth Bale at his best can get out of the group they are contesting with England, Russia and Slovakia. However, without their best player Wales are like Holland without Cruyff who was a wonderful player now sadly departed. Northern Ireland are the outsiders of the 24 teams in the finals, a number that has totally destroyed the neatness and synergy of a 16 team tournament.
Germany are a team in transition and were overwhelmed by England in the second-half of the friendly international in Berlin last weekend. France won their own World Cup in 1998 and were swept along with the emotion of playing at home. Euro 2016 could go either way for the hosts in that the pressure and expectation could be too much or the circumstances could provide inspiration.
Spain are the holders and are going for a third successive European Championship. The golden era players are not all exactly pensioners but four years on from showing the continent they are the best team in Europe they may lack something in the context of winning another tournament. Austria have been slowly and quietly making progress and if there is a shock of Greece in 2004 proportions that country could provide it.
Getting back to England it’s fair to say they stunk out the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Most games in the tournament were entertaining with teams inspired by the location to play Brazilian type football. England’s 0-0 draw with Costa Rica was just about the worst of the tournament and the boys skulked home at the earliest possible time after not progressing from the group stages. Roy Hodgson should have resigned.
The first post World Cup friendly at Wembley attracted about 40,000 fans which was a wonderful turnout after the debacle of the World Cup. England won all ten qualifying matches for the Euros and though the opposition was generally weak those matches in strange places still had to be won. However, nobody was really convinced England could win Euro 2016 but that all changed after the 3-2 win over Germany. The loss to Holland at Wembley three days later was a reality check.
The starting 11 against Germany besides Joe Hart for Jack Butland should be given the nod barring injuries that they are playing against Russia in England’s first game in France in the summer. In fact they should be guaranteed their places for the group stages unless England lose their first two matches and the third one becomes irrelevant. In the 24 team format the four best third placed teams qualify from a process that eliminates just one third of the finalists but over 75% of the matches.
Wayne Rooney is now England’s record scorer and is a dedicated and committed captain. However, maybe he has had his day and should now be an impact substitute rather than a definite starter. Jamie Vardy may be a one season wonder but conveniently it coincides with a major tournament. Harry Kane will be around for a decade and should be on the team sheet with his buddies from Spurs, Dele Alli and Eric Dier. That does not leave a space for Wazza though he could be in goal because all England’s keepers are getting injured. Defense is more of a concern.
France, Germany and Spain are the top three in the betting but that might be more based on past glories and sentiment rather than a cold analysis of their form. France would be good winners for reasons other than football but the last two world champions in Germany and Spain are not the force of old. In a season when Leicester could win the Premier League as 5000/1 outsiders Austria winning Euro 2016 at 40/1 would be a relative certainty.
Austria had the second best qualifying record after England, winning nine matches and drawing one to win their group by eight points. Granted Russia, Sweden, Montenegro, Liechtenstein and Moldova were not world beaters but Austria were unbeaten in the campaign, scoring 22 goals and conceding just five. Only England and Spain conceded fewer goals in qualifying and Austria’s almost perfect run has helped them reach number 10 in the FIFA world rankings. England are one place higher so on form they can beat Austria in the final of Euro 2016 as long as Joe Hart is fit and Rooney is not in goal.