The final of Euro 2016 will take place at the Stade de France in Paris on July 10th and in many ways the teams that take part is irrelevant. The fact that the match and tournament in France is taking place is more important than the identity of the nations represented in the final. However, one of those teams could be England if Roy Hodgson is brave and puts out a team that has no fears or tainted by previous tournament calamities. France would be the emotive winners of their celebration just as they won their home World Cup in 1998.
Wales are not total also rans and with Gareth Bale have the one world class performer who can make a competent team something special. The Welsh have developed a great team spirit and are clearly playing for the manager, Chris Coleman. It would be a fitting tribute to Gary Speed if Wales could do something similar to Greece who won Euro 2004 when unconsidered outsiders. Ireland will be represented by the north and republic so Scotland are the only party poopers which must really annoy Nicola Sturgeon, especially as Andy Murray has just won the Davis Cup for Britain.
A daft idea is extending the Euros to include 24 teams in the finals. Tournaments lend themselves to 16 or 32 qualifiers and the whole structure and format becomes chaotic when another eight teams compete. There will be six groups of four teams with the top two and four best third-placed sides advancing to the last 16 knockout round. Thirty-six of the 51 matches will be required to eliminate just one third of the competing nations. Michel Platini was an inventive footballer but the President of UEFA has made a mistake in expanding the European Championships but he probably has other pressing matters to occupy his time.
It would be churlish to point out that Wales and the two Irelands have been beneficiaries of an expanded tournament. However, they can only play by the rules and each team may have still qualified under the old 16 team format. In some respects opening up more opportunities for fans to enjoy the tournament experience is a valid objective, especially in the light of a more unified Europe following recent events in Paris. The Gallic countries will add to the occasion and probably drink a lot of beer and one of them could actually win the tournament.
The value of the form when England beat France at Wembley is questionable as the night was more about what happened before the 90 minutes of action. More significant could be England’s 2-0 defeat away to Spain when both teams were focused and trying. Hodgson went for a strategy of giving up possession and scoring on the break. However, the execution was not good enough and Span scored two great goals to win the match. Form in friendlies can be misleading but on the evidence of this match Spain are a better team than England.
However, England can be Euro 2016 champions and win a tournament outside the country for the first time in the history of the national team. Apparently according to Alan Hansen you can’t win anything with kids but England always let us down using the tried and tested tired methods. The Golden Generation became almost a cliché and the era of Beckham et al never looked like winning the World Cup or European Championships. That side became stale and tarnished by too many disappointments.
Some of the best international sides have the foundation of experience allied to some maverick youngsters. England have Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney and Gary Cahill as the wise old heads but in Dele Alli could have the joker in the pack. He was fearless in scoring a great goal against France, ironically past Hugo Lloris his teammate at Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino has developed a great side including several young English players that could form the basis of the national side in France next summer.
Hodgson has reached a watershed in his England managerial career. Another dismal tournament effort will see his demise and the brave appointment of Jose Mourinho as the next England coach! We know that will never happen as the FA will go for another civil servant and not a proven coach who can motivate players and build an effective team ethic, like Coleman has done with Wales. A united team with a special talent can prosper so Wales look a good bet to win Euro 2016 at 150/1 with Ladbrokes.