History has shown that hope often triumphs over scepticism when it comes to England at a major tournament, and sure enough, a rousing win over the Swedes on Friday – which saw a refreshingly vibran
History has shown that hope often triumphs over scepticism when it comes to England at a major tournament, and sure enough, a rousing win over the Swedes on Friday – which saw a refreshingly vibrant response to mid-game adversity – has reinvigorated expectations which were at an all-time low prior to the tournament.
Euro 2012 was meant to be the competition with no expectations, no strings attached, with no unfair sanctions on any of the parties involved. This was supposed to be an unexciting, injury-hit side, restricted by negative tactics under an experienced but conservative manager, who had been given too little time to construct a side worthy of winning a major tournament.
But, true to form, two positive matches in and all of a sudden the English public are enjoying international football again.
While the required realism remains – the likes of Germany and Spain are still the favourites to win Euro 2012 – staunch pessimism around the England camp has been replaced with mild optimism.
Manager Roy Hodgson et al have been keen to stress that England still require a draw at the Donbass Arena to qualify for the quarter-finals, and indeed co-hosts Ukraine are dangerous opponents.
However, with their talisman, Wayne Rooney, returning to the fold after a two-game suspension, the flame on that candle of hope England fans are clutching is burning slightly brighter.
The recalled Manchester United forward is certainly bullish about England’s chances, as he stated: “I think we’re good enough. I know everyone doesn’t want us to build expectations up but I firmly believe we have got the players.
“We are hard to beat now. If you want to win tournaments you have to play the best teams and how much of a boost would it be for us if we were to play Spain and beat them? How much confidence would that give us?”
An upbeat Rooney will be reinstated alongside either Andy Carroll or United team-mate Danny Welbeck.
Logic would suggest that Hodgson plumps for Welbeck, who scored an instinctive winner against the Swedes, as his partnership with Rooney has shown glimpses of flourishing at United, and can only improve on the international stage.
And with Rooney as your club mentor, it is little wonder that Welbeck enters the game favourite to partner England’s superstar up front.
England’s true matchwinner last Friday was undoubtedly substitute Theo Walcott, who was declared fit to play after a hamstring scare in training. England sorely missed a player of Walcott’s speed, agility and penetration against Sweden, and after “banging on the door” for his inclusion, England fans everywhere will hope that Hodgson opens that door and lets the Arsenal winger loose at Ukraine.
It was remarkable what a difference Walcott made when he was introduced, compared to the ineffective wing pairing of Ashley Young and James Milner. While Young has been a reliable performer of late and shouldn’t be castigated for one poor game, Milner particularly looks out of his depth as a winger, and a player of his fine passing range and vision is better suited to the middle of the park.
Ukraine’s build-up to this crunch Group D clash has been overshadowed by a knee injury to icon Andriy Shevchenko, with coach Oleg Blokhin rating the former Chelsea striker’s chances of playing as “50-50”.
The co-hosts must beat England to stand any chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals – they will even qualify as group winners should this happen and France fail to beat Sweden.
Shevchenko’s impact at Euro 2012 and overall standing among his countrymen has only elevated his importance to Ukraine’s chances. Hodgson described him as a “world-class player”, with Blokhin even admitting his absence would be a “great loss”.
But even Blokhin’s patience ran out at Monday’s press conference as he barked: “I have 22 others players, stop asking about Shevchenko. The subject is closed, it’s 50-50, I will make a decision tomorrow.”
Certainly the whole Ukrainian team, backed by a partisan crowd of over 50,000 people, will need to be at their best and at their loudest to prevent England’s infamous optimism gaining public approval once again.