France Coach Speaks Out On England Challenge

Regular contributor Thomas Rooney looks at Monday’s game between England and France.

Those looking to bet live on Euro 2012 will note that It is now just a few days to go until England take on France in their opening match of Euro 2012 and the coach of their opponents has been having his say on the threat the Three Lions possess.

Laurent Blanc, essentially, thinks that England will adopt a physical approach and that his side are in for a tough challenge. After going unbeaten since 2010, France are confident, but they know England will be difficult opponents.

The French boss said: “’They are not at full strength but what concerns me is that England will play in a certain style. We are going to have to be extremely strong physically. That is going to be a difficult match.”

‘“England will give everything because, when there are French against English, it raises the game above the normal international match. But we don’t fear them more than other teams.”

‘It is certainly an interesting theory that England will be physical. They will be well organised yes, but will they be overly physical? It seems a rather bizarre conclusion, but there you go.’

Roy Hodgson’Â’s men will of course look to be solid at the back and hit France on the counter attack, but it mustn’Â’t be forgotten that the Three Lions have some quality players.

If England sit back and let France attack them, it simply wonÂ’’t work. As much as they need to make defensive security their priority, England must be positive going forward and remember that the likes of Ashley Young, Theo Walcott and Steven Gerrard can be very dangerous.

France are more likely to come out all guns blazing though and for this reason, there could be quite a few goals. England just need to make sure they match BlancÂ’’s men and in the end, a draw wouldnÂ’’t be the worst result.

It is time for the talking to stop and the action to begin. Before it does though, England winger Stewart Downing has spoken about his sideÂ’s lack of fear when it comes to facing the French.

The Liverpool man said: “’We are confident we can get a result. We don’t fear them. We know they are a good team but so are we. We know their strength and weaknesses.’”

It is an interesting comment to say that England ‘know the strengths and weaknessesÂ’ and the French team. It’s clear that France could be devastating going forward,  but does Downing think France are weak in a certain area of defence?

The make up of the England team will probably tell all. Bring on Monday evening.

If It’s Saturday It Must Be Belgium

The last game before Euro 2012 starts next week looks as if it could turn into pep rally than a competitive game.

It’s probably fair to say that Belgian football has been in the doldrums for the last decade: the Red Devils haven’t qualified for a major tournament for over a decade and are currently one place above Wales in the UEFA Rankings. They missed out on the playoffs by two points, despite managing to score eight more goals than Turkey in their group but they looked up against it when they only drew 1-1 in Azerbaijan a year ago and basically had to beat Germany in Dusseldorf to stand a chance of getting to the playoffs. They were 3-0 down before the hour: that was that.

However – like the Norwegians last week – there are plenty of familiar names in the current Belgian squad. Vincent Kompany was captain of the Manchester City team that won the Premier League last season, Thomas Vermaelen is the heart of Arsenal’s defence and (as I have to explain to various family members when Everton are on telly) Marouane Fellaini is the tall bloke with the big hair.

I’ve deliberately left one name out, because those of us watching tomorrow night may have our lives transformed forever if Eden Hazard plays. Even though he has yet to kick a ball in anger for Chelsea, he’s obviously the best player in the universe right now and fans across the world waited with baited breath last week to see which English club he’d chose to play for. That’s presumably what he’d like us to think, although I’m reserving judgement to see how he does against Stoke at The Britannia Stadium before using any superlatives to describe him.

Regardless of Eden Hazard, history is on our side in this game. Belgium have never beaten us in England: the only time we’ve not beaten them at home in five previous encounters was also the last time they played at Wembley in October 1964. We last played against them at Sunderland in October 1999, when goals from current TV talking heads Jamie Redknapp and Alan Shearer ensured a 2-1 victory but the game was notable for Kevin Keegan giving Frank Lampard his international debut.

England are favourites to win the game, which kicks off at 5:15pm although ‘coverage’ starts at 4:30pm on ITV. That usually means bland interviews in poorly lit changing rooms, plenty of adverts encouraging you to buy beer/televisions/party food and at least one awful pun from whoever has been rounded up to provide punditry – although I don’t think they’re likely to use ‘the Belgians have surrendered again’, it’ll probably be something based on the EU.

I’ll be back with a quick roundup after the game finishes, but you’re in for a treat next week – a substantial preview piece and something a little different that I think you’ll enjoy.

Have a good long weekend and God Save The Queen.

 

The new England manager is in place, the team has been chosen. At last it’s game on for England and all the other European teams. Click here to check the Betting odds for Euro 2012.

Managerial Uncertainty Makes England’s Euro 2012 Odds Look Unappealing

With only a few weeks left to go in the domestic football season, it’s only a couple of months until the start of Euro 2012 and it’s officially time to start our coverage. Who better to kick it off that regular contributor Richard Smith: Richard takes a look at some of the prices on offer for an English success in the tournament…and rapidly comes to the same conclusion as any sane bettor would.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding who will be the manager of the Englandteam at Euro 2012,  bookmakers are getting into full swing by offering a host of betting markets on how theEnglandteam and players will fare at the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine.

In the betting to win Euro 2012 outright,England are rated as the fourth favourites with most major bookies offering just 9/1. This price is influenced by the weight of the “patriotic pound” that will either have already been wagered or in anticipation from the betting companies but when both France and Italy are priced at 14/1, it is difficult to rate England as “value” and 9/1 is unappealing but nonetheless, loyal fans of the Three Lions will invariably back the team to win the tournament with nothing more than blind faith as the reason.

If England qualify from Group D, a Quarter Final match against either Spain or Italy is likely to await them and if it is Spain, then prospects of progressing really do look bleak.

Spain are expected to win Group C, so to ensure a last eight tie against the runner up in Group C, which is most likely to be Italy, then England will need to win Group D. Should this be the case there is no guarantee that England could or even should defeat Italy, a game in which the Italians would likely be favourites to win but would be considered more “winnable” than if having to face Spain.

In all honesty, any punter thinking with their head would probably resist from backing the Three Lions in the Outright win market, especially with no permanent England manager yet appointed which must impact on preparations, potential squad selection, tactics and opponent analysis . However, if you’re betting with your heart, it’ll be a question of how much to put on England in the hope that Harry Redknapp is appointed at the end of the season and the moral boost from that would be enough to result in a fairytale ending!

Englandto be eliminated at the Quarter Final Stage at odds of 13/8 is proabbly the most likely outcome at this stage!

As far as Group D is concerned, most pundits are predicting an England and France one-two. England are the narrow 13/8 favourites to win the group with France a 7/4 chance, co-hosts Ukraine come next at 9/2 while underdogs Sweden are 11/2.

The key to the Group probably lies in the opening game between England and France on 11th June. France have been transformed under new Head Coach Laurent Blanc, losing only twice in the twenty matches he has been at the helm and one of those was his very first game in charge when he fielded a weakened team following the fallout and suspensions on the back of the 2010 World Cup debacle. They qualified comfortably from their Euro2012 Qualification Group losing just once in their ten qualification games and have since secured “friendly” wins over the USA and more impressively Germany. The French clearly will be no pushover!

England of course qualified unbeaten from their Group and have secured recent wins over Sweden and Spain. However, with Fabio Capello no longer in charge, it has left a number of doubts surrounding the team at a critical time and with no manager yet appointed and the France game fast approaching, the situation looks bleak.

Backing England to top Group D therefore now looks a little dangerous, France have the momentum and as such, could get the better of England in the Group D opener, which would leave England with two difficult remaining games against Ukraine and Sweden but ones where they should be good enough to get the results to qualify in second spot, whoever is selecting the team and tactics! Therefore, a France to finish top, England runners up straight forecast bet at 7/2 looks the best pick of the group markets involving England.

A lot can happen between now and England’s opening game in Donetsk but as it stands, without a permanent manager it is difficult to be optimistic. Stuart Pearce is more than capable of leading the troops but how far in to battle can he take them? It will certainly be an interesting few weeks in between the end of the domestic season and start of the Euros and an even more interesting couple of weeks in Poland and the Ukraine!

State Of Leadership – Who Should Wear The Prestigious Armband At Euro 2012?

With the second biggest question in English football looming overhead Discount Football Kits gives its take on the situation to 11lions.co.uk.

Whomever gets the nod for the next England manager, one of their first big decisions is going to be directly tied in with the departure of Fabio Capello. With the FA sticking to its guns that John Terry cannot captain his country while awaiting trial for an alleged on-the-pitch criminal offence, picking a new England captain become a priority in the run-up to the European Championships.

If fan polls are anything to go by, the public believes it’s a three horse race. The most cited candidate by supporters in a Guardian poll was Steven Gerrard. Supporters claim he’s a proven leader both at club and international level with both the experience and ability to be captain. There’s also a great argument that Gerrard leading them team would not only be an inspiration to the other players, but could even up Gerrard’s own game as he thrived on the pressure.

It’s also notable that Wayne Rooney has backed Gerrard as a candidate, and when you consider the bitter Man Utd-Liverpool rivalry, you can be sure Gerrard has the respect of his countrymen. The big drawback however is his reputation for aggressiveness both on and off the pitch: while it’s important to remember he was found innocent of all accusations, his courtroom appearances could be an issue given the context of the vacancy.

If the new boss is looking for a safer choice, Scott Parker could be the way to go. At 31, he’s developed the maturity and respect that’s required to be an effective captain. There’s also a case that his all-rounder style means he’s likely to always be close to the action, making it easier for him to take a lead role throughout the game. The main knock against Parker is that he is a relative latecomer to the senior national team and it could be curious to have a man with just a handful of caps captain the country.

The third main option is Joe Hart, who’s got the public backing of both James Milner and Gareth Barry. While he’s relatively young, the logic seems to be that he looks set to be a constant in the side for years to come, meaning he could bring stability to the role.

Wayne Rooney heads up the rest of the field and has openly said he’d relish the role, though it’s hard to see how somebody with a reputation for hot-headedness on the pitch could take over in the current circumstances. The rest of the field looks to be slim pickings assuming the new manager wants a captain who’s a safe bet for being both fit and in form for the duration of the tournament.

Of course, there’s another twist on the debate, which is to ask whether selecting a captain is really a worthwhile task in the first place. There’s a growing call for the FA to adopt the system that’s common in Italy by which the captain’s armband is automatically worn by the most senior player in the team. That would certainly remove a headache and allow the manager to concentrate on other matters without distraction.

Capello on Hand To See Swans Fly

Easily the best footballing side in the Championship last season, it’s hardly a surprise that Swansea have been attracting a lot of positive attention due to their performances in the Premier League. Thomas Rooney thinks a couple of Swans should be given a chance in the England squad and if the widely predicted changes happen after Euro 2012, Thomas has a point!

While The F.A were busy announcing an upcoming friendly fixtures against Holland, it was Swansea that were evoking memories of the Dutch pass masters of years gone by as they sauntered past Arsenal while Fabio Capello watched on from the rocking Liberty Stadium stands.

Those studying mobile free bets note how Brendan Rodgers’ side have become the feel-good story of the season, and the fairy-tale ending, or at least the pinnacle of their achievements this season, likely came as Danny Graham slotted home the winner against Arsenal recently. Although Capello may have come to cast his eye over Theo Walcott, who despite getting on the scoresheet continues to be an enigma when it comes to producing consistently decent performances.

Although Walcott may have been in Capello’s thoughts before the game it was the Welsh outfit’s band of Englishmen that would have occupied his drive home to the capital after the game.

Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham have all proved themselves wonderfully capable of adapting to life in the Premier League, and soon they will be joined by another precocious talent, Chelsea’s Josh McEachran who completed his loan move from the capital earlier this week.

Graham in particular has thrust himself into the limelight ever since his move from Watford over the summer with his clinical and powerful finishing.

Dyer and Sinclair have long been talents that have been marked for bright futures – few would have envisaged however that they would find a home and room to flourish with a newly promoted side given little chance of survival by the experts. These three fit seamlessly into a side that contains no less than seven men who would be available to Capello, and it is their style of play along with their results that have won them praise this season.

Occupying a large point of the Italian’s mind ever since the draw took place, is of course Euro 2012, and he will already have in his mind an almost fully formed picture of the squad he will take with him into battle once more.

It is unlikely any player wearing the white of Swansea will make it into his final squad. It is their effervescence as a unit that appeals most about Swansea, their philosophy under Rodgers that brings them together and allows them to out-pass the finest English passing side of the last twenty years, Arsenal.

But while they may miss out on Capello’s final squad, perhaps due to the lateness of their charge or even the fact they come from a distinctly unfashionable club, there are few who would begrudge Swansea their success. Keep your eye open for a few of them in Rio in 2014, at least a few of them will be there, at the World Cup.

Who Will Be England’s Player Of The Year?

Thomas Rooney takes us through some of the candidates – and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d expect.

The FA have begun their annual search to find out who England fans rate as their player of the year for 2011. With the disappointment of 2010 well behind us, 2011 has certainly been a much brighter year for the national team, with renewed optimism about their hopes for Euro 2012.

Indeed, 2011 has been an unbeaten year for England – a year when they played the likes of Spain, among other tricky opponents, it has been the year that they scored their 2000th goal, and above all, it was the year that they qualified for the European Championships. But who has been the star player among all that?

Surprisingly, the top scorer is not Rooney, Bent or indeed any striker, but rather Ashley Young, a midfielder. For him it has been a memorable year, for both club and country. Aside from getting his big move to Manchester United in the summer, he has notched four times for the national team, and has become one of the stars of Fabio Capello’s side.

Frank Lampard is another player who has been in amongst the England goals. He has three for the year – two of which were from the penalty spot – but has played an important role for the national team. There is no writing him off just yet.

Joe Hart has now established himself as England’s first choice goalkeeper, and has put in a number of impressive displays, including keeping a clean sheet against World Champions, Spain. He will certainly consider himself a contender.

Another player to consider would be Phil Jones. The youngster has made his international breakthrough, and looks likely to be one of the stars of the future for his country. In the games he has played, he has shown great composure for a man of his experience, and is certainly showing all the signs of potential that England fans like to see.

In total, however, there are 32 candidates running for the award, and it would be impossible to make a case for all of them. For me however, the honour surely has to go to Young. Not only has he outscored all the strikers, but has been an essential cog in the works of the England midfield.

He is a player who is confident of his own abilities, and absolutely appears to have it all. He can shoot, he can pass, he can beat a man. He can play down the right, down the left, or in behind the strikers. Add to that a fantastic work rate, and you have a top player.

So take your time, play poker games and make your decision on England’s player of the year!

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Enjoy The Playoffs, The Friendlies Will Be Painful

Before we take a look at tomorrow’s friendly against Spain, it’s worth a quick review of tonight’s playoffs for the last four places in Euro 2012.

The first thing that jumps out is the quality of the teams in the playoffs. Since Euro ’96 Croatia, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey have all reached the knockout stages of at least one of the subsequent competitions with Portugal reaching the final in 2004. Or to put it another way: our record in the Euros since 1996 is the same as Croatia’s.

Ireland last qualified for the Euros in 1988 (and possibly the less said about that particular tournament the better) but what really stands out about the playoffs is that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia and Montenegro deserve a chance to qualify.

This is easily Bosnia and Herzegovina’s best ever team: Edin Dzeko, Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and Rangers defender Sasa Papac are the players best known to British fans but with only one member of the current squad playing in the local league it’s fair to say that the ‘Dragons’ are a cosmopolitan bunch.

Montenegro are a team we’ve covered in the past so we’ll leave them alone for the time except to mention that their progress since 2007 has been frankly astonishing – according to the latest FIFA rankings there’s nothing between them and the Czechs.

As well as being arguably the weakest team currently left in the tournament, the Estonians are probably the least well known – Middlesbrough striker Tarmo Kink is hardly a household name outside Teeside – and although I’ve come across midfielder Sander Puri and striker Jarmo Ahjupera in my parallel career as a football punter, we’re generally looking at the obscure end of anyone’s knowledge of European football.

Good luck to Ireland, although you just know what’s going to happen if they qualify.

On to our game against Spain tomorrow, which has been dominated by alleged racial abuse by John Terry, the usual cretinous behaviour in Zurich (by both FIFA and the EDL) and the usual pointless speculation about Capello’s successor.

I’m not in the mood to dwell on the off field issues, especially as there are so many reasons to be pessimistic about our chances tomorrow.

We’ve lost three of our last four home games against Spain (the only win since April 1968 was in a friendly at Villa Park in February 2001) and we haven’t beaten the reigning World Cup winners at home since a 3-1 win over Argentina in May 1980. The last time we faced a team that had won the World Cup at Wembley was in February 1999 and we lost 2-0 to France: I watched the game in a pub in central Bristol in front a table full of French students who enjoyed it immensely.

Looking back at our last win over Spain, it’s interesting to see how the career paths of the players from both sides have developed. Five of the starting England XI are still playing (David James, Rio Ferdinand, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Nicky Barmby), one of the subs (Frank Lampard) will be captain tomorrow and Chris Powell will be taking charge of Charlton Athletic in their FA Cup game at FC Halifax on Sunday lunchtime.

On the other hand, only Iker Casillas remains a Spanish international, even though Manuel Pablo and Raul are still playing. Three starters in the Spanish XI that lost at Villa Park are now managers: Abelardo manages CD Tullia in the fourth tier of Spanish football, Luis Enrique is in charge of Roma and Pep Guardiola…well, if you don’t know what he’s up to these days then you probably shouldn’t be reading this.

All being well, I’ll be back either tomorrow night or on Sunday with a look at what happened this wekeend.

Don’t Panic, It’s Only Bulgaria and Wales…

Over the next five days England have two very important games that will go a long way to resolving what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it next Summer. The answer we’re all hoping for is ‘watching England playing in Euro 2012’ regardless of whether that’s in the Ukraine and Poland, in an Irish pub somewhere in the Med or (in my case) the biennial ritual hiding behind the sofa with the curtains drawn whilst swearing your head off and trying not to scare the neighbours.

We’re not in a bad position in the Euro 2012 qualifiers – equal top with Montenegro but with a superior goal difference – but Bulgaria will have to beat us tomorrow night to stand any chance of even qualifying for the play offs and that could be where the fun starts.

There are no real outfield surprises in the squad which was announced at the beginning of the week: ten players from the Manchester clubs, seven players from London teams (including Scott Parker, now of Spurs) and two each from Everton and Liverpool. The big issue is the reserve goalkeepers – Frank Fielding of Derby and David Stockdale of Ipswich are both playing in the Championship – but before anyone starts moaning about that, it’s only fair to point out that Birmingham City have reached the group stages of the Europa League. We should be proud of the standard of football in the Championship rather than moaning about the lack of decent goalkeepers in the Premier League, as some ‘journalists’ have been doing.

The good news is that England have never lost in Bulgaria and we’ve won two of the three games we’ve played there – the last victory was a 3-0 win in a qualifier for the 1980 European Championships, goals coming from Kevin Keegan of SV Hamburg and Peter Barnes and Dave Watson of Manchester City. Those of us with long memories will remember that despite Barnes being voted Young Player of The Year in 1979/80, not long after the game he was sold by Malcolm Allison to WBA; it’s hard to imagine Roberto Mancini doing that with either Adam Johnson or James Milner.

Wales can do us a massive favour before our meeting next Tuesday by beating Montenegro but I’ll be surprised if they do – the Red Dragons have only won four of their last ten home games – but it’s important to point out that the Montenegrins have only won once in their last ten away games (the win in Bulgaria last September) and lost in Albania last month. If the bookies are right, there won’t be any changes at the top of the group as England are currently best price 4/7 for the win in Sofia, while Montenegro are 6/4 to win at the Millennium Stadium.

Both our game and Wales v Montenegro are live on Sky Sports, but because of the difference in time zones and kick off times, instead of watching adverts and listening to expert analysis from Bulgaria at half time, you’ll be able to turn over and experience that sinking feeling familiar to football fans on the other side of the Bridge when you see that Wales have conceded an early goal…

Wales Preview

I’ve got to be honest, I’m completely underwhelmed by today’s game. If England don’t win by more than two goals I think Capello should resign immediately. This game looks like a mythical third round FA Cup tie – something like Histon v Liverpool.

To begin, let’s start with some facts. We’ve only lost three times in Wales since World War II, the last time was a 0-1 defeat at The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham in May 1982, a game in the last Home International Tournament.

We’ve won eight of the last ten meetings in Wales, there’s not been a draw since April 1970 and we’ve only failed to score twice in the last 20 games over the bridge.

Wales have won 9 of their last 20 internationals at home but only four of their last ten – and those were against those well known powerhouses Liechtenstein, Estonia, Scotland (stiffles giggle) and Luxembourg. They haven’t won a Euro qualifier at home since beating San Marino four years ago.

Fifteen of the 24 players in the Welsh squad for the game – that’s 62% of them – play outside the Premier League. If Wales could play like Swansea then this game would be a lot closer, but there are only three Swansea players in the squad. 

(BTW if Swansea get promoted from the Championship, they’re worth watching: a budget Barcelona until they get to the opposition penalty box where they turn into a poor man’s Arsenal and try to pass the ball into the net)

As for all the nonsense about giving John Terry back the captaincy, all I’m going to say is that I really hope that Spurs either beat Real Madrid in the quarter finals of the Champions League or put up such a fantastic performance that appointing Harry Redknapp as next England manager is obvious even to the dunderheads at the FA.

Capello’s ‘decision’ to reappoint John Terry as captain just shows what a busted flush he is as a manager and even though I expect us to qualify for next year’s tournament, I think it’ll be the same old story when we get to Poland/Ukraine I’m afraid.

Verdict: Wales will be fired up for about ten minutes after the crowd at the Millennium Stadium have finished singing ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, Craig Bellamy will attempt to decapitate Wayne Rooney if he can get anywhere near him…and then England will score and the game will be over.

Postscript: I think we might have a tougher game against Ghana next week.

Ferdinand “Very Upset” With Captaincy Decision

Guest blogger Pete South takes a look at the latest controversial decision by Fabio Capello…

Current England captain Rio Ferdinand is said to be “very upset” over Fabio Capello’s decision to name John Terry as captain for the crucial Euro qualifier against Wales at the weekend, BBC sport reports.

The Manchester United defender has endured an injury hit season and has only played four games for the national side in the last 12 months, and last week media rumours have circulated about the Italian’s impending decision to name Terry as skipper.

Initially back problems kept Ferdinand out of the action, but now a hernia problem means he is unlikely to feature against Wales, and while nothing had been confirmed until the weekend free bets had largely been placed in Terry’s favour.

Terry was stripped of the armband last year following reports about his personal life. Terry allegedly conducted an affair with team mate Wayne Bridges ex-fiancé Vanessa Perroncel, and Capello acted swiftly to take the captain’s armband from him, but now the Chelsea defender has regained the position.

Frank Lampard led the team out in their last match, a friendly against Denmark, but media reports suggest Capello has started to re-think his decision following Ferdinand’s injury woes. The armband was passed around the team in that match, although Terry was a notable exception, and Capello admitted the captaincy had become a headache for him.

“I was really upset about what happened in Denmark, when I saw the players saying ‘who is the captain?’,” he said.

“After one year of punishment, it was not the best moment for John Terry to see this. For that reason, I need to make a decision – and it will be a permanent decision, not just one game.” He added.

 The Italian also admitted the injuries that plagued Ferdinand were becoming an issue and insists he has to act now.

“First of all, I want to know what happened with Rio’s back and when he will be fit because he is a really important player for us,” the 64-year-old said.

After that, I will explain to him what really happened and what I am going to do in the next week – if I will decide on a new captain or about John Terry or something else. I will explain what happened in Denmark and what I think. I would understand if he is not happy but I am the manager. I have to take decisions.”

 England are overwhelming free bet favourites for the game against Wales, but will have to play without Stephen Gerrard, who has been ruled out for a month with a groin injury.