Roy Hodgson was swept into the job against the tide of popular opinion, with many wanting the Football Association to appoint Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp. The former West Brom boss knows he has a lot of work to do to win over the doubters even before his team takes to the field. He is a solid but underwhelming presence, and his 23-man squad did not exactly set pulses racing – only wins will do that.
Steven Gerrard’s vast international experience more than qualifies him for the job, but there are significant doubts over both his fitness and form. Once again, it is a case of which Gerrard turns up to a major tournament. If it is the barnstorming presence of old, England could be in business.
Many of the old guard remain, though Hodgson showed himself to be more than a mere slave to big reputations by leaving Rio Ferdinand at home. He has, however, thrown in his lot with John Terry, a policy which did not pay off too well for Fabio Capello. Elsewhere, the omission of Micah Richards was almost as mystifying as the inclusion of Stewart Downing, but at least the likes of Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been given a chance to shine.
Expectations on the Three Lions have scarcely been lower going into a major tournament. The shame of the South Africa debacle is still fresh in the mind, and the uncertainty over the manager and captain positions has meant even the most one-eyed England fans have kept their feet firmly on the ground. It seems anything better than embarrassment in Poland and Ukraine will do.
The age-old problem with England is while they can beat anyone on their day, they rarely do, and only a fool would expect that to change this summer. Their group is also deceptively tough – France are talented and in-form, Sweden never roll over and Ukraine are on home turf. As unexciting as it sounds, reaching the quarter-finals would represent success.
Wayne Rooney is without a doubt England’s star man. A moment of idiocy against Montenegro means he has to sit out the first two group games, but he remains the most talented English player of his generation. With 37 goals to his name this season, he is also a man in-form and, if Hodgson’s men go into their final group clash needing a result, he will be expected to make the difference.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is not an unknown in England anymore after a breakthrough season which included several prodigious performances. The young Gunner’s relative lack of experience and wider notoriety make him a potentially ingenius wildcard pick by Hodgson. He will first need to prove he merits his place though.
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