England Euro 12: Lower Expectations Will Allow for Greater Success
By this time next week, we'll be just two days away from the first England fixture of Euro 2012.
They play France next Monday (June 11th) in what's definitely the match of their group, which also includes Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine.
There's almost been an underwhelming buildup to this tournament for England, especially when you compare it to the hype of the World Cup campaigns of 2006 and 2010.
Far be it for me to say, but I think there's a great sense of realism about some of the things that have come out of the England camp this week.
In particular, I've been very impressed with the way that coach Gary Neville and defender Phil Jagielka have spoken about England's chances this summer.
At a press conference this past Thursday, Neville told assembled sports journalists, including those from the BBC:
"After qualifying in Italy in 1997-1998 and then against Greece in 2001-02 it was almost, when you look back now, a little bit embarrassing. All we'd done is qualify, but it was like we'd reached the World Cup final. It's now about managing expectations slightly differently and probably being a little bit more realistic about what we are and where we've been.It's about showing that humility to say 'Spain are there, France did win World Cups, Brazil are there'. We are trying to get to them rather than thinking we are there already just by qualifying for a tournament."
Similarly, Everton defender Phil Jagielka, who was a last-minute replacement for the injured Gareth Barry, was equally realistic when he spoke to the associated press on Wednesday, telling The Sun newspaper:
"I am sure if we win a game we will be favourites but I am sure if we lose a game we will be a waste of space. It would be better for the squad if there is a little bit less expectation on us. Hopefully we can go under the radar until the latter stages of the tournament. I think if we are being realistic we haven't won anything for a number of years now. Maybe that is because we haven't deserved to. Hopefully we can do better this time."
It's my opinion that the impression being given by the England camp is cautious optimism instead of expectancy, which is a great thing. No team, whether it's Brazil, Argentina, Spain or England, has a divine right to win anything.
Let's face facts, since winning the World Cup in 1966, the national team have only reached two semifinals. Once at the 1990 World Cup and then again at Euro 1996.
The recent record doesn't fare much better. The "golden generation" of Lampard, Terry, Gerrard, etc. have fared no better than quarterfinalists in a major tournament and I believe that the current squad is shaping up to do the same.
Does that mean that the current squad isn't good? Well, there are a few debatable inclusions, like Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, but I think there's enough talent in the squad to get to the latter stages.
Injuries to key midfielders like Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, as well as Wayne Rooney's two-match suspension, haven't exactly helped, so it's difficult to assess England's chances.
The key thing for the England fans is not to expect too much too soon with the side that'll start the first two games. For me, the return of Wayne Rooney will be key to how far they can go.
What result can England achieve at Euro 2012?
Without Rooney's influence in the first two games, they may struggle to score goals. Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck remain unproven at international level, while Jermain Defoe wasn't a regular starter at Tottenham last year.
England have just as much chance of winning the tournament as anyone else, particularly in light of the fact that two from Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Spain and Italy could be out by the end of the group stages.
A strong defensive base will be the key to success, as well as keeping possession of the ball and making goal scoring chances count. If England can do that, then there's no reason why they can't leave Kiev on July 1st with the trophy.
Given their recent record, there's no need to expect success, but there are definitely reasons to be cautiously optimistic of glory.
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