Sunday, 10 June 2012

England can upset Les Bleus

The Three Lions have endured a predictably turbulent build-up to Euro 2012 with injuries, fears of racism and Rio Ferdinand's controversial omission from the squad dominating headlines. If you believe what you read, the tournament promises to be one to forget for Roy Hodgson's men. France, on the other hand, are as optimistic as they've ever been. The shambles of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa have been forgotten and Laurent Blanc leads a reinvigorated French team to Ukraine on the back of a 21 game unbeaten streak.

On paper, Les Bleus certainly have a strong side. The attacking quartet of Ribery, Nasri, Malouda and Benzema would frighten any defender to bits, whilst a defence including the likes of Patrice Evra and Philippe Mexes will be tough to break down.

England manager Roy Hodgson
England, despite being severely weakened with the losses of Lampard, Cahill and Barry, and despite being almost universally written of in their homeland, are still a force to be reckoned with. In Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney (when he's available) and Ashley Cole, they have three players who would grace any World XI. They also possess ever-reliable stalwarts such as John Terry and Steven Gerrard in their ranks, whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young could provide lighting pace down the wings, so long as the latter actually stays on his feet for an extended period of time.

Two areas England may have to worry about are at right-back and upfront. Wayne Rooney's two game suspension means the manager is likely to go with Welbeck, Carroll or Defoe as striker(s), while Roy Hodgson's inexplicable, unexplainable, baffling and completely unfathomable decision to pick Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly as his two right-backs when he has Premier League winning vice-captain Micah Richards at his disposal could cost England dear. Johnson has endured a poor season at Liverpool whilst Kelly, who can also play at centre-half, has found first team opportunities hard to come by. In contrast, Micah Richards won the Premier League as one of Manchester City's most important players.

Indeed, despite finishing eighth in the league, Liverpool maintain a mysteriously high presence in the England squad, with the much maligned trio of Henderson, Downing and Carroll joining Gerrard, Johnson and Kelly in Hodgson's 23-man squad. This possibly owes to Roy's ill-fated stint in charge of Liverpool, and represents a familiar problem with England managers, where they pick teams based on who they know rather than who's actually playing well.
Anyway, I digress. England's encounter with France promises to be an entertaining affair. Roy Hodgson's men go into the game as supposed underdogs, whilst France, who have been in such good form, risk becoming complacent. England, so often considered to be arrogant, are now carrying around an inferiority complex which could work to their advantage. Gone is the overwhelming expectation. Gone is the crippling pressure. The Three Lions finally have the luxury of going into a game knowing anything but a loss would be satisfactory. Let's hope they use it to their advantage and prove the doubters wrong.
Possible starting XIs:

France (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Debuchy, Rami, Mexes, Evra; M'Vila, Cabaye; Ribery, Nasri, Malouda; Benzema

England (4-4-2): Hart; Cole, Terry, Cahill, Johnson; Young, Parker, Gerrard, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Welbeck, Defoe
Score prediction: France 1-2 England.

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