There is less than a week until the UEFA European Championships get underway in France, the squads are selected and the hopes of a nation now rest at the feet of the 23 men chosen to represent their country.
Pubs and houses throughout England will be hanging up flags and readying the BBQ as football supporters across the country prepare to cheer the ‘three lions’ to victory. But, how much chance do England really have of going all the way this summer?
Every English football fan has been there before, head in hands with tears rolling down their face as their brave boys were dumped out after a poor performance or agonisingly beaten on penalties. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be different this time around.
In this post, I will analyse England and try to determine whether the nation will be celebrating victory or crying into their beer at Euro 2016.
To start with, let us take a look at the 23-man squad Roy Hodgson thinks has the best chance of bringing success.
When the provisional squad was first announced, many people criticised the inclusion of injury prone and half fit players. They also pointed to the fact there were players who performed brilliantly throughout the season only to be passed over, with many saying the squad is consistently picked on reputation rather than form.
Players like Mark Noble, who has consistently been one of the best midfielders in the Premier League for a few seasons, wasn’t chosen. Jermain Defoe, who finished the season as third top English goal scorer in the league with 12, was only on the list of reserves. Scott Dann, rated on the Premier League website as the best English Centre-Back in the country for the season, wasn’t even mentioned aloud. The list of players not called-up was long, whilst there were several negative comments regarding the ones that were.
But, Mr Hodgson has made up his mind and has selected a young, attacking group of players for the tournament. Surprisingly, Premier League title winner Danny Drinkwater was omitted from the squad along with Andros Townsend and an injured Fabian Delph.
The 23-man squad has been finalised and the players with a nation’s hopes at their feet (or hands) are:
The choice of Goalkeepers was quite a simple one. Joe Hart will rightly start the tournament as number 1 with Fraser Forster as his back-up. Burnley’s Tom Heaton also gets a place in the squad, with expected third-choice Jack Butland out injured.
Hodgson has chosen to take only three recognised Centre-Backs for the tournament. They are vice-captain Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and John Stones. They are joined by Full-Backs Kyle Walker, Nathanial Clyne, Ryan Bertrand and Danny Rose.
Defence isn’t England’s strongest point and many critics will say a fourth Centre-Back should have been chosen. The back line is definitely competent enough but time will tell if an extra attacking player instead of an extra defender was the right move to make.
The three players omitted from the provisional squad when the final 23 was named were all midfielders, with people again criticising the choice to select just one recognised holding player to protect the back four.
Eric Dier is that holding midfielder and he is also able to cover at Centre-Back. He is joined by Dele Alli, Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, James Milner, Raheem Sterling and the injury prone pair of Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere.
The inclusion of both Henderson and Wilshere has raised a few eyebrows, after they both missed large chunks of the season and can only be about 75% match-fit at best, but they are both brilliant players if on form and can be potential match winners.
It is an attacking midfield unit filled with creativity but lacking a bit defensively. Against the better teams, England may find themselves overrun in the centre of the park but it is only a possibility and nobody yet knows the system Hodgson will play. The biggest problem may be a lack of width, with only one recognised winger selected.
Three of the striker positions in the squad picked themselves really. Wayne Rooney is the captain and all-time leading England goal scorer, Jamie Vardy has just guided Leicester City to the Premier League title with 19 goals and Harry Kane won the Premier League Golden Boot with 25 for the season.
That left Hodgson with a decision as to who else to take in attack. When the provisional squad was named it looked like a straight fight for one place between the extremely talented but not fully fit Daniel Sturridge and new wonder-kid Marcus Rashford.
Rashford scoring two minutes into his debut against Australia, with Sturridge forced to miss the match, looked to have decided it. However, both strikers were included in the final squad and will be on the plane to France.
It’s an exciting attacking unit with plenty of goals between them. Kane and Vardy have been on-fire this season, Rooney is still seen by many as a world-class player and can also drop into midfield if needs be, Rashford is young and eager to shine on the world stage, whilst Sturridge will want to prove he deserves his place in the squad and that the risk on him was worth taking.
Qualification and Build-Up
England have been drawn in a tough group and they kick things off on June 11th against 2008 Semi-Finalists Russia in Marseille. After that is a clash against British rivals Wales in Lens, with Gareth Bale itching to impress in his first ever major tournament finals. They finish off against Slovakia, who are appearing in their first ever European Championships and have been boosted by recently beating Germany, in Saint-Etienne on the 20th June.
Hodgson’s men are favourites to top the group and if they do, they will move on to face one of the best third-placed teams in the Last-16. It’s in the Quarter Finals where it starts to look tricky, because it’s likely they will meet either Portugal, Belgium or Italy at that stage.
If they manage to make it through to the last-four, it will probably be a clash with Spain and that would be followed by a potential meeting with France or Germany in the Final.
That is the route if England top the group. If they don’t, they would play the runner-up from Group F (Portugal, Iceland, Austria and Hungary) in the Last-16 before a potential Quarter Final against France and a possible Semi-Final with Germany.
Finishing third in the group doesn’t bare thinking about for England supporters, because that would mean having to rely on being one of the best third-placed teams and a last-16 match with Spain or Germany.
England have a young, exciting, hungry and attacking squad with the chance to show the world how great they are. If they perform to their potential, I see them topping their group and they should comfortably make it through to the Quarter-Finals. It gets trickier from there but this England team have shown they can beat the best, it all comes down to how they play on the day and also to a bit of luck.
The negatives are the noted defensive frailties, a lack of defensive-midfield options and the tendency to play too narrow with only one recognised winger in the squad.
I think England will have a good tournament, but also have a feeling that the lack of defensive cover and the fitness concerns of a few players will come back to haunt Roy Hodgson.
My prediction is England to reach at least the Quarter Final, before their limitations start to show up. It will be a valiant exit, Roy Hodgson will more than likely find himself out of a job and every fan in the country will be left watching a probable final between Spain and France whilst dreaming about what might have been.