Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As England prepare for the start of Euro 2016 this weekend, we ask football writers Matt Blake and Dan Masoliver if the Three Lions can be considered the best bet to win the competition.
YES! They can go all the way
“This team has a thrilling combination of fresh legs, burning desire and sackfuls of natural talent that gives it its best chance in decades” – Dan Masoliver, sports writer, Virgin Media
During an undefeated qualifying campaign, Hodgson’s side netted 31 goals and conceded only three for a goal difference of +28 – an impressive tally that made the likes of Spain (+20), Germany (+15) and Italy (+9) look feeble on the road to France. And with a strike force consisting of the top two goal scorers in the Premier League (comfortably besting the likes of Euros rivals Romelu Lukaku, Olivier Giroud and Anthony Martial), England’s combo of Vardy and Kane poses the greatest goal threat of any duo in the competition. Manuel Neuer is quaking in his perfectly polished boots.
Remember England’s Golden Generation? That band of underachieving brothers? You know, the ones who were so dismally disappointing as to fail to even qualify for the 2008 Euros, ending up level on points with the mighty Israel, despite boasting a midfield consisting of Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham. Forget about them, because for all their moments of solo brilliance, that England side – like so many before and since – lacked creative spark. That little bit of je ne sais quoi. On the other hand, what players like Dele Alli, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana lack in international experience, they more than make up for in that intangible creativity that makes defences open up like the Red Sea did for Moses. Keep your golden boys – I’ll take these mischievous misfits any day.
With an average age of 25, England boast the youngest squad in the 24-team competition. And yes, that youth is something to boast about, and to be buoyed by. Just cast your mind back to Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004 or Michael Owen at the ’98 World Cup – they had everything to prove, nothing to lose, and their entire careers ahead of them. That uncontainable passion and enthusiasm wanes, of course, as wage bills inflate and places on the national side become assured. But until then, the likes of Alli (20), Barkley (22), Raheem Sterling (21) and Marcus Rashford (18) possess that thrilling combination of fresh legs, burning desire and sackfuls of natural talent that give this England squad its best chance in decades of bringing home le bacon.
Geoff Hurst said so
“The most exciting squad since ’66.” Not my words, but those of Sir Geoff Hurst. As in, national treasure Sir Geoff Hurst – scorer of that historic hat-trick against West Germany in England’s one and only World Cup final victory in 1966. It’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about what a tournament-winning squad looks like. It’s one thing for an over-patriotic media to hype up England’s chances, but this is Sir Geoff Hurst speaking. If he fancies England’s chances, then so should you.
The pressure’s off
For every major tournament since 1966, England have been favourites to lift the trophy. Not in the eyes of any rational, analytical and objective outsider, obviously, but we English have always believed that our brave boys would triumph. And that, ultimately, has always been England’s downfall, because neither the pneumatically efficient Alan Shearer, nor unarguable footballing genius Paul Gascoigne, nor Golden Balls himself, David Beckham, could shoulder that burden of expectation. This year, for the first time in decades, the pressure is off – and that might just be exactly what Roy’s Boys need to go all the way.
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NO! They aren’t good enough
“You wouldn’t expect a snooker player to win a pool tournament without even visiting a pool bar first, so how can we expect England to win this?” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
England’s defence is the biggest concern. For starters, they’ve conceded in all but one of their games this calendar year (the uninspiring Portugal match being the only exception). That’s six goals in five games. Gary Cahill is an average defender by international standards – I mean, how can anyone forget the way Mario Balotelli left him flapping about like a fish in a boat during that World Cup group match against Italy in 2014? I worry for Chris Smalling’s consistency under pressure and Johnny Stones has a LOT to prove after the season he’s had. They all do, really.
Lack of diversity
England is the only team in the tournament where every single player plays in the same league. Russia comes close, with just one player working outside his motherland, but most have a smorgasbord of experience across the world’s leagues. Belgium has the most variety, with players from across eight leagues. France comes next with six, and Germany and Spain represent five domestic competitions. You could argue that the Premier League is the best in the world, with the most diverse workforce, but it still has its own style and culture. With little exposure to the idiosyncrasies of foreign leagues, England lacks diversity and options. You wouldn’t expect a snooker player to win a pool tournament without even visiting a pool bar first, so how can we expect England to win this?
No knockout experience
As well as England may or may not do in the group stage, there’s no escaping the fact that no player has experience at the business end of major international tournaments. England hasn’t surpassed the last eight in either the World Cup or European Championship since 1996. Germany, Spain and Italy, on the other hand, have all played finals in the past five years.
Hodgson has shoehorned Rooney into his England squad like a size-ten foot in a size-nine boot. And now he’s giving us blisters. Against Portugal, he was meant to support Vardy and Kane, but instead thrust through the middle, pushing them further out wide until they could’ve taken seats in the stands. It also forced Alli to the wing when the 20-year-old should’ve been doing what he’s done so brilliantly all season: combining with Kane in the No 10 role. For England to win, Rooney must make way.
History holds us back
Over the past 50 years, we’ve come to treat our national team like an overzealous gardener watering a giant marrow with a fire hydrant. Before every competition, we blast the soil with such force that the veg inevitably wilts and drowns in a muddy puddle of false hope and expectation. Englishmen never seem to possess the emotional fortitude to survive such a flood of pressure. 1966 was a long time ago. Yet, if there were a European trophy for nostalgia, England would win without breaking a sweat. But there isn’t, so we must let go of the cold, dead hand of past glories and free ourselves from ourselves. That’s when we’ll win a football tournament. The pressure’s not off, it’s on as it always is. Disagree? Then Google “Should England win the Euros” and see how many pages come up. Or buy a copy of The Sun. Let’s just enjoy the football.
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