The domestic season is drawing to a close and the shadow of Euro 2004 is once again looming large over the football landscape…
The national team will become the unified focus of all football fans and the grief will be widespread when our heroes are knocked out on penalties. Again. But what if it was different this year?
Whenever a major tournament approaches, England expects, and invariably is disappointed. Surely now we have the manager and the players to produce the goods. Sven Goran Eriksson’s competitive record is excellent, though his detractors argue that he provides no motivation for the players.
The FA hired a tub-thumper in Kevin Keegan and look what that achieved. Eriksson’s was a sound appointment and one which showed a progression in thinking at the FA.
Now they and the public need to get behind him and put to rest the xenophobic fear of a foreigner coaching England.
Ok, so David James isn’t the greatest keeper in the game, but he doesn’t flap at crosses any more than the majority of continental keepers, and his shot-stopping is second to none.
The defence in front of him (Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, John Terry, Ashley Cole) is solid and compares well with any other team in the tournament. Campbell and Terry were magnificent together in Turkey and any reproduction of that kind of form will mean England won’t have to score too many to win a game.
The midfield is overflowing with talent and this could be the time for Steven Gerrard to make the rest of Europe sit up and take notice. His form for Liverpool has been sensational and if he is given the same licence to bomb forward for England, then expect some fireworks.
David Beckham and Paul Scholes are proven international class and able backup is provided by Nicky Butt, the irrepressible Owen Hargreaves and the ever-improving Frank Lampard.
The strike force seems to be the problem area but the much-maligned Emile Heskey may yet have a role to play. His partnership with Michael Owen has produced goals for both in recent weeks, and may be preferable to the inclusion of the boy wonder, Wayne Rooney.
At such a tender age, Rooney’s biggest impact may well be from the bench, and that is where he should start in Portugal.
England had a decent world cup in Japan, with a half-fit Beckham and Owen and no Gerrard. With the drive of the Liverpool man in midfield, England have a real chance to make an impact and beating France in our opening game could really set the team up.
Once again, England expects.