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Euro 2012: Could it be England?

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Could Euro 2012 offer England’s best chance in a generation of winning a major championship? This, of course, sounds absurd – but looking at difficulties facing many teams in Euro 2012, it’s perhaps not as stupid a remark as it may first appear.

The England team has many factors against it (many of which are self-inflicted). In Roy Hodgson, they have a manager whom much of the media, peeved that their man did not get the job, have already written off. Wayne Rooney, one of probably only three world-class English players at the moment (Ashley Cole and Joe Hart being the others) is banned for the first two matches.

Some players – such as Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck and Jermain Defoe – have had seasons that can be described in a range of adjectives from ‘dire’ to ‘underwhelming’. In John Terry, England have in the squad a twice-deposed captain who is due in court in July on charges of racist abuse. The team will be based in Poland and travel relatively long distances to Kyiv and Donetsk for its matches.

Some players have had seasons that range from ‘dire’ to ‘underwhelming’

And yet – and yet – there are reasons for England to be optimistic. Expectations are rock-bottom, and even the tabloids have abandoned the usual jingoistic, tabloid ‘Cry God for Harry Roy’ attitudes that usually precede the tournament. That shift helps.

Hodgson’s approach is a reason for optimism: he understands that, to make an analogy to club football, the England team is not Manchester United or Chelsea – it is West Bromwich Albion or Fulham. Instead of lauding the players, he seems to recognise their limitations and will adjust his tactics accordingly. It may not be pretty, but it could be effective. With the exception of Steven Gerrard – a player who grabs the headlines but sometimes to the detriment of the team – he has players who are disciplined in their positions (which may explain the selection of the uninspiring Downing).

England also have a good record against their group opponents, who are similarly limited: France seem to be entering another tournament with talented players but a disorganised team; England beat Sweden last year and have a good record against a team that is not especially fearsome; Ukraine has home backing but an ageing squad.

Looking outside England’s group, there are many strong teams, but each with difficulties: Spain, though impressive, lack David Villa’s inspiration, and winning three major tournaments in a row would be an unprecedented achievement for a European nation. Germany will look to build on their strong showing in the 2010 World Cup, but the squad is still young and perhaps a little fragile, as shown by the 5-3 defeat to Switzerland last Saturday (although the Germans were without players from Bayern Munich).

Chelsea showed that good organisation, a realistic approach, hard work and good luck can inspire unexpected results

The Netherlands have a strong attack, particularly with Robin Van Persie, Klaus-Jan Huntelaar and Arjen Robben, but the defence is less secure. Portugal and Russia would be difficult, but not insurmountable opponents. Italy, immersed in controversy as new match-fixing allegations lead to arrests and accusations, may prosper in adversity. However, it is a youthful team – particularly in attack – that may need another couple of years to gel.

England still face considerable hurdles – their inability to keep the ball, as shown in the second half of the friendly victory against Norway on Saturday – is a major issue. But Chelsea showed in the Champions League that good organisation, a realistic approach, hard work and good luck can inspire unexpected results.

An England Euro 2012 victory? It’s unlikely – but not impossible.

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