Are there any events in the sporting world that have a bigger disparity between the fanfare with which they are presented and the actual excitement they bring than the draws for major championships?
The draw for the 2016 UEFA European Championship was typically uneventful, not least because, for the bigger teams at least, it really didn’t matter what came out of the hat (or, more accurately these days, the big glass bowls) because the top two teams from each qualifying group will be safely waved through to the finals in France.
This of course means that the likes of Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and, dare we say it, England, will have to make quite a special effort not to go through. Even if they do somehow contrive to finish outside the top two, they will probably still have the safety net of the playoffs to save them.
Still, qualifying has not typically been a problem for England in recent years, that nasty snafu under Steve McClaren aside, but rather what happens when they actually get to the tournament. It will take something approaching a miracle for Roy Hodgson’s side to make any sort of impact at the World Cup in Brazil, but France in 2016 could be a different matter entirely.
By then, a hugely promising crop of young players will have a bit of extra experience, maturity and might be ready to actually achieve something.
Several of these relatively young players will be on the plane to Brazil. On current form, Jordan Henderson should be in the squad, as should Raheem Sterling. Phil Jones will probably go. Daniel Sturridge is the form striker in Europe at the moment and Jack Wilshere has shown an appetite for big games at Arsenal that English players have lacked in the past.
All of those players will have another two seasons of experience under their belts, most of them will appear in the Champions League and all will be more mature.
In addition, there is a crop of youngsters currently not quite ready for the World Cup that will be by 2016. Luke Shaw will probably be England’s first-choice left-back by then, and his Southampton teammate Callum Chambers looks hugely promising on the other side of defence. Ross Barkley has more or less everything a modern midfielder needs. And both Wilfried Zaha and Ravel Morrison might have solved their assorted problems by then.
And of course, much of the experienced talent Hodgson currently has at his disposal should still be around. Wayne Rooney will only be 30, Joe Hart, 29, Theo Walcott, 27, and even Steven Gerrard could still be knocking around.
Gerrard will be 36 in 2016, but Hodgson suggested this week that he could still be a part of England's plans. As quoted by ESPN, Hodgson said:
I don't know if he necessarily couldn't play beyond the World Cup.
I think a lot will depend on him and how he feels, and depend on how he is playing. At the moment there has been no slowing down in his play…
I think a player like Steven, who is such an all-round player, will give you good attacking work and good defending work. Whether that spares him running or not, I don't know. Sometimes you think he is not doing as much there but you might be surprised.
Of course, so much can and probably will happen between now and 2016, and history rarely treats "This Could Be the England Team in a Few Years" lists well, but the promising talent in this country means there are reasons to be optimistic for 2016.
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