England had a stroke of luck when they avoided Spain and Germany in the draw for the groups at Euro 2012, improving their Euro 2012 Odds instead being drawn against France, Sweden and co-host Ukraine. It is still a difficult group nonetheless. France are on an 18 game unbeaten run in which they have won against Brazil, England, and most recently away in Germany. England have always found Sweden a difficult encounter, although beating them, for the first time since 1968, in a friendly last year will give them confidence. Ukraine will be a tough game in front of what will be a partisan home crowd.
England’s preparation has been less than ideal so far. With their first game against France just a few weeks away on June 11th, they find themselves managerless, captainless, and perhaps most importantly they will be without Wayne Rooney for the first two games. Rooney has to serve a two game ban for kicking Montenegro defender, Miodrag Dzudovic in the qualifying round, and he will be missed as he is undoubtedly the one England player that will not look out of place in the company of the top players in Europe on show in the tournament.
With no clear replacement for Rooney, and without knowing who the manager is and what players and formation will be played, it is difficult to predict who will be his replacement. The natural replacement, Darren Bent, is still recovering from ankle ligament damage suffered in February, and it is still touch and go whether he will be fit. Even if he is does make it though he will be sorely lacking match fitness.
Following the friendly against Holland in February, Daniel Sturridge, who won Man of the Match despite only coming on as a substitute, showed some signs that he could be the man to do the job of linking midfield with attack as Rooney does. There is no denying that he put in the work in that game, but his form has slumped in the last few weeks, and with only one league goal in 2012 does he have the experience or the individual skill to fill Rooney’s boots?
Danny Welbeck, Rooney’s teammate at Manchester United will be another candidate. He undoubtedly has talent, but does he yet have the experience to compete at this level. Peter Crouch, despite his ‘wonder-goal’ against Manchester City, has long been out of contention and probably not done enough this season to justify his inclusion, and the same can be said for Jermain Defoe who has suffered another frustrating season at Spurs. Bobby Zamora, and Andy Carroll, may be considered, but would they strike fear into Europe’s top defences. Norwich’s Grant Holt, this season’s second top English goal scorer in the Premier League behind Rooney, may be an outside bet, but how would he contend with such a step up?
However, despite all the troubles facing England perhaps it all could play in their favour. For once they will possibly be beginning a tournament without an outpouring of unrealistic over optimism accompanying them. The absence of Rooney in the first two games could prove to be a blessing in that it may inspire other players to step up and shine to prove their worth of a place in the team when Rooney does return for the Ukraine game; and could the return of a rested and eager to get going Rooney give the team a boost at the right time…or am I being over optimistic?