Euro 2012: Picking England's Starting XI to Face France
It seems hard to believe, but England's opening match of their Euro 2012 campaign kicks off against France in just seven weeks from today.
While there is still a great deal of uncertainty over who will be in the dugout in Donetsk for that match and however long England remain in the tournament, the debate over who should be out on the pitch continues in earnest.
Several issues—such as Wayne Rooney's suspension for the first two games, Jack Wilshere missing through injury and the lack of a permanent captain—only add to the selection quandary for whoever the FA ends up giving the job.
Here is an England XI which has as good a chance of beating the French as any. If you disagree with any of the choices, please add your own selection below.
GK: Joe Hart
The Manchester City goalkeeper has been England's undisputed No.1 ever since the first friendly after the 2010 World Cup.
Not that there is a great deal of competition for the jersey, but Hart has made the position his own and will be one of the first names on the team sheet written by whoever manages England this summer.
The 25-year-old was on the six-man shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year, and was also voted on to the Team of the Year by his fellow pros. An absolute shoo-in.
RB: Micah Richards
Despite his poor showing at the 2010 World Cup, Glen Johnson has continued to start most of England's matches. However, the newly-crowned PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker and Micah Richards have both been capped recently.
Richards started in the recent friendly against Netherlands, and has been in fine form for Manchester City for much of the season.
The 23-year-old made his England debut as long ago as 2006— coincidentally against the Dutch—and while he does not possess the same pace as Walker, he is a far sturdier defensive option.
His ability to play at centre-back as well as right-back is just the sort of versatility that international managers look for, and may help him steal a march on his rivals for a place in the squad.
The Manchester City defender has had his detractors over the past few years after he initially struggled the justify the £22 million fee paid to Everton for his services in 2009.
However, this season the former Wolves trainee has been playing very well for City. As if to prove the point that he can also deliver when he is not alongside Vincent Kompany, Lescott was imperious in his performance when England beat Spain 1-0 in a friendly last November.
Again, his ability to play at left-back as well as in the middle should be enough to see him on the plane, but his form might well earn him a place in the starting lineup as well.
CB: Rio Ferdinand
Given the awkward situation surrounding John Terry's upcoming court appearance on charges of racially abusing Rio Ferdinand's brother, Anton, it is probably best that they do not line up together for England.
Terry—while a fine defender—has been found wanting against top international opposition, as anyone who remembers England's defeat at the hands of Germany in South Africa will know.
Ferdinand—who has missed the last three major tournaments through suspension, England not qualifying and injury respectively—is the far more accomplished footballer, and will be able to help England keep possession and distribute the ball better than his Chelsea counterpart.
LB: Ashley Cole
Cole may not be England's most popular player, but he is both the most-capped player currently in the set-up and England's most consistent performer over the last decade.
Despite his advancing years, Cole remains one of the best left-backs in world football, and has proved himself a match for even the best attacking players he has faced.
Given his experience—all 93 caps of it—and the lack of a great deal of competition for his place, Cole is sure to be lining up for England at the Donbass Arena on June 11.
DCM: Scott Parker
Parker's international career was late in getting off the ground, but he is now making up for lost time. The Tottenham midfielder's appearance against Netherlands in November was only his 11th for England, but he wore the captain's armband for the first time in that match.
The combative 31-year-old has enjoyed the best two seasons of his career, winning the Football Writers' Footballer of the Year award last term at West Ham before becoming an integral part of the Spurs midfield this term.
With Parker's drive and mobility, England's defence will have an extra bit of protection when they face the vast attacking talent of France.
CM: Frank Lampard
Another of England's most experienced players, Lampard will be on the verge of his 34th birthday when England kick off their Euro 2012 campaign.
After England's poor showing at the World Cup two years ago, Lampard was marked out many pundits and fans as one of the players who needed to be phased out of the international picture. Despite that he's still very much a regular for his country, and scored the winner in England's 1-0 win over Spain in a friendly last year.
Just as with his England career, attempts to give him a back seat at Chelsea did not work out, and he has responded by registering a double-figure goal tally in the Premier League for the ninth consecutive season.
CM: Steven Gerrard
It has long been said that Gerrard and Lampard cannot play together in the same side for England, but the Liverpool captain remains an undeniable starter for England.
The Liverpool captain wore the armband for his country in South Africa, and was one of the few England players to emerge from the World Cup with any credit.
With Parker anchoring the midfield, Gerrard and Lampard should be able to operate effectively together.
RM: James Milner
In what is sure to be an unpopular choice, the Manchester City midfielder gets the nod here over several other more exciting players.
While Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and Aaron Lennon could all lay reasonable claim to a place on the right of England's attack, Milner earns his place because of his superior work rate and defensive abilities.
Milner would be vital in supporting his full-back against the significant attacking threat of Franck Ribéry, and he would give balance to the England midfield with his ability to shift across whenever other players move out of position.
LM: Ashley Young
With Milner giving balance to the midfield from the right, Manchester United midfielder Young would be given more freedom to attack from the opposite flank.
With no Wayne Rooney for the first two games, Young's ability to run at defenders through the centre in support of the main striker could be invaluable to England's attacking plans.
The 26-year-old's strike rate of five goals in 19 caps—including a well-taken goal against the Dutch—also stands up well against any of his rivals for the position, and he might also be able to win England the odd penalty too.
CF: Darren Bent
Given England's paucity of options up front, a situation exacerbated by Wayne Rooney's suspension, Bent almost gets the place by default.
One or both of Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge may well be in the squad, but with six caps and no goals between them they are very much prospects for the future rather than the here and now.
Jermain Defoe is currently not showing much in the way of international form while Andy Carroll is simply not a viable option at present.
The Aston Villa striker is facing a race against time to be fit, having undergone ankle surgery back in March, but the signs look promising according to his club boss Alex McLeish, as quoted by The Sun.