We are still seven months away from a European Championships which England qualified for with some time to spare, but negatives surround the England national team and its chances amongst Europe’s best next summer.
Euro 2016 is England’s chance to redeem themselves from their first-round exit in 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which was a nightmare to say the least. England did what they did best – qualify with relative ease – and then when it came to the big occasion, the team could not deliver; the group stage came and went with no more than a whimper. Roy Hodgson’s job was under threat, but he kept it, and in qualifying for Euro 2016, he beat what was in front of him.
Since Hodgson took over the Three Lions on the eve of the last European Championships, it has been a slow build. Young, hungry players have come in to the squad, with a core of solid and experienced professionals to build around.
Professionals such as Wayne Rooney, who has his critics, particularly following a poor World Cup, but England’s all-time record goal scorer has thrived when fully fit for Hodgson. Gary Cahill is another; he has not had the best of seasons for Chelsea so far, but will be in the England defence when the tournament kicks off in France.
The ever-present Joe Hart, meanwhile, is now under pressure from Jack Butland for the number one jersey, but the Manchester City stopper has been nothing but solid for England. Jordan Henderson, though currently injured, brings the graft and energy to a midfield that can bring the best out of a very talented forward line, as well as the solidity to protect an exciting back five.
However, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard’s departure from the international scene has left gaps around Henderson in midfield. Jack Wilshere was supposed to be the answer, but there is no sign of his fitness becoming consistent any time soon. As such, Hodgson has regenerated his squad. England’s midfield has seen debuts for Fabian Delph and Eric Dier, whilst Dele Alli looked fantastic against France last week.
Further up the pitch, the rejuvenation continues. Andros Townsend was a good gap filler, but Raheem Sterling is a first choice selection out wide, with Theo Walcott potentially complementing him on the opposite flank.
Harry Kane has been superb for over a year now and fully deserves to hold on to his first choice status, as he and Rooney look like a blossoming partnership. He will, however, have competition for that position, as Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck near fitness, while Jamie Vardy can’t stop scoring. Vardy’s form can’t be ignored, and the quality of Sturridge and Welbeck cannot be dismissed.
The regeneration of the England squad continues in defence, having seen Chris Smalling and John Stones looking like top class centre-backs, Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker battling for the right-back position, and Luke Shaw showing that he should be England’s first choice left-back for at least the next decade – injury permitting, of course, as Shaw may not be able to recover in time to make it in to the squad.
Countering the specific threats posed by high-class opposition should be what Hodgson and his side work on in the coming months, which is why the FA have set up fantastic glamour friendlies to test the squad. However, there is a distinct difference between what happened in last week’s two friendlies against Spain and France, to what will and could happen over the next number of months.
Spain passed England off the park, but it was good for some of the players to realise the level that they have to reach. Sadly, the friendly against France was not a true reflection of the quality of the visitors, who should be up there at the business end of the Euros, but at the very least, England went out there and showed the French what they can do. They certainly won’t take England lightly.
Germany and the Netherlands are the next friendlies up for the national team in March.
Despite the encouraging progress, though, there doesn’t seem to be any positivity amongst fans, as talk of ‘the same old England’ engulfs the airwaves. It is amazing what a bit of support from the country can do; look at how well the women’s side did in Canada earlier this year.
England are very unlikely to win the tournament, but they should be going out there excited to win, not afraid of failure.
If we support the side, you never know, next summer may be something to remember.
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