England Euro 12: Three Lions Are Built for Deep Run at Euros
England faces Ukraine this afternoon to determine which nation will proceed from Group D to face Spain or Italy in the next round. A tie will secure England's bid in the quarterfinals while a win will give them a chance to win their group, pending France's match with Sweden.
After defeating Sweden and finishing with a draw against France, the Three Lions will live to play another day if they avoid defeat at the hands of Ukraine. That seems like a good bet.
Wayne Rooney will return from a two-game suspension for kicking Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic in a qualifying match last October. England's star player will return well-rested and boost the squad's firepower going forward.
Coach Roy Hodgson told BBC Sport that Rooney, who has not scored a goal in a Euro tournament match since 2004, looks poised to lead his team in his first game back.
His attitude was perfect in training sessions. He has been very lively, energetic and enthusiastic. That's a positive... If Wayne can produce his best, then he can help us keep going even further.
Rooney's absence during the first two matches might benefit the Three Lions in their quest to win the Euro Cup. His suspension provided the rest of the squad, particularly Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott, with a chance to shine on the big stage.
They learned how to compete without Rooney, and now they should continue to flourish after his reinstatement.
The English held their own without their premier player, who looks motivated to succeed in the tournament during his prime years. They can now hit their stride at the right time and advance to the final eight.
Ukraine, on the other hand, is unsure of its top player's availability in today's match. Andriy Shevchenko, who provided all of his team's offense in their 2-1 victory over Sweden, may not play due to an injured left knee. Coach Oleg Blokhin described his chances to suit up as "50-50."
With Shevchenko, Ukraine still would not have entered the matchup as the favorite. They now face a daunting challenge in winning without their stud, who at best will play at less than full strength.
According to FIFA.com, Blokhin acknowledged and embraced his squad's current situation as the underdog.
We should consider England as leaders in the European Championships. They also have problems because if they lose tonight it will be unexpected. There will be big problems for them, but it's not the same for us. The England team will be more nervous. We have nothing to lose.
Ukraine has a lot to lose though. The co-host is eliminated with a loss while England can slither past Group D with a tie. For every unlikely tale of a team overcoming the odds and pulling out a major upset, there are 20 stories of the better team winning.
If England ignores Blokhin's "nothing to lose" narrative and powers past Ukraine to the quarterfinals, it can make a serious run at the championship.
A report by The Daily News shows that Rooney is more than comfortable playing the favorite, and he thinks his team can emerge as a major threat.
"I think we're good enough," Rooney said. "I know everyone doesn't want us to build expectations up, but I firmly believe we have got the players."
Look for the Three Lions to defeat Ukraine and continue to pick up steam in the tournament where they are materializing into a team that neither Spain or Italy should want to encounter in the quarterfinals.
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