A Game We Can Win

Unexpectedly given pre-tournament expectations, England have reached the quarter finals of the European Championships for the first time since 2004.

Or to put it another way, we’ve reached the quarter finals for only the third time since the competition started just over half a century ago.

If that seems a rare feat, consider this. We’ve not played a competitive game against the Italians since the epic goalless draw in the Olympic Stadium in Rome which ensured qualification for the 1998 World Cup. Even more surprising is that fact that we’ve never played the Italians at a neutral site in a major tournament. Considering we first played them in 1933 and between us we’ve qualified for almost every World Cup and European Championships, it almost looks like we’ve gone out of our way to avoid each other. Ironically, we next them in a friendly in August.

Before I continue, it’s worth chucking in some facts about the quarter finals in the recent Euro tournaments, basically so you can start planning what to say when you turn up bleary eyed for work tomorrow morning. In the European Championships Since 1996:

* On average, at least one quarter final per tournament has gone to extra time, although none did in 2000.

* In the games that went to extra time, all but one were eventually decided on penalties

* Most of the quarter finals have been won by countries that won their groups: victories for Spain and Germany over the last two days took those numbers to eleven wins in 19 games for group winners in quarter finals

If we apply those statistics to today’s game there’s the possibility that England might actually win a penalty shoot out in the latter stages of the European Championship since Stuart Pearce dramatically made amends for his miss in the 1990 World Cup Semi Final when he scored in the shoot out against Spain in 1996.

However, before getting carried away there are some numbers that you should be aware of. We’ve only beaten Italy twice in our last ten meetings – the last win was at Le Tournoi in 1997 – and we’ve failed to score in half of those games. Not only that, the fact that we’re currently ranked higher in the FIFA rankings could count against us. Since 1996, at least one quarter final has seen a lower ranked side beat a higher ranked team – that hasn’t happened yet in Euro 2012.

Overall, these statistics point to something that we’ve all been expecting. This is going to be a tight, low scoring game – there may only be one goal in it – that could easily go to extra time and penalties. And whoever wins will probably be beaten by Germany in the semi finals.

So who have we got to look out for? Remarkably, Cesare Prandelli has already used 20 players in three games although the midfield of De Rossi, Marchisio, Pirlo and Thiago Motta played in all three group games: it should be remembered that Pirlo and De Rossi are also more than capable of getting on the scoresheet. Antonio Cassano of Milan normally starts up front but hasn’t finished a game yet and it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if he wasn’t on the pitch after 70 minutes today: it’ll be interesting to see who plays up front with him. Mario Balotelli started against both Spain and Croatia but was substituted in both games; although he came off the bench to score in the last minute against Ireland I’m wondering if he might be used to replace Cassano and the more experienced- and potentially more lethal – Antonio Di Natale will be alongside Cassano for Italy. The other question is which formation the Italians could use – they lined up in 3-5-2 against Spain and Croatia but changed to a 4-1-3-2 against Ireland and could use that again against us, largely because we don’t really play Mediterranean style football.

Apart from the enforced changes upfront due to Wayne Rooney’s suspension, Roy Hodgson has been fairly consistent in his team selection. Nine players started all three group games and both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have made cameo appearances in all of the games so far: arguably the biggest surprise has been Danny Welbeck. However if you’re going to base your attacking options around making Wayne Rooney comfortable then attempting to copy Manchester United’s style puts selecting Welbeck and Ashley Young ahead of arguably better players into context. Much has been made of the lack of Young’s defensive qualities at this level and if he starts today he needs to have the game of his life in that respect.

If we beat Italy, the old nemesis lies in wait in the semi finals. Germany took a while to get going against the Greeks on Friday night but once they hit their stride they look fantastic. I ‘watched’ Spain v France last night but my wife and I saw ‘The Woman In Black’ before it and that was more tense and dramatic than the game: my opinion is that ‘tiki taka’ is about as thrilling as ‘catenaccio’ used to be in so far as it’ll bore you into submission before striking when you probably expect it. Croatia and France learned that lesson the hard way.

Let’s not get too carried away if we win tonight. A bit carried away will be perfectly acceptable though.

Tips-Free-Bets.com Euro 2012 Betting Tips: Germany To Lift The Trophy, Spain To Disappoint

Spain are missing key men upfront and Germany look a real force ahead of Euro 2012 tournament. Ethan Rowe, Tips-Free-Bets.com tipster, explains why you shouldn’t put your money elsewhere.

All attention is now on the knockout stages of Euro 2012. After the group stage at Tips-Free-Bets.com we looked at the form of key players that are still in the tournament to try to understand earlier than bookmakers which side will lift the trophy 1st July in Kiev. If you expect yet another Spanish victory than you may be disappointed as this tournament may be more of an end of season siesta for the reigning champions.

Vicente Del Bosque’s will take on France in the quarter final and I have the feeling this could be the end of their campaign. With a few exceptions, such as Juan Mata and Torres the bulk of Spain’s squad is made of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Both teams have been battling on a multitude of fronts this season and those players have been involved on average on 60 official games since last August. They didn’t perform brilliantly in the group stage and although they finished first they struggled with both Italy and Croatia.

Laurent Blanc’s France have what it takes to beat them and progress to the semi-finals. I must admit their last match against Sweden wasn’t great viewing but they had already qualified and the feeling was that they were too relaxed. I don’t think that was the French side that will play against Spain: they came into this tournament with a 21 game unbeaten run and they will be keen to prove that they are up with the big boys again. Compared with the last World Cup they are a rejuvenated team that can also count on a few elements that have the necessary experience to help the squad in difficult moments.

The main weakness for France is in defence but considering that Spain will probably play without a striker, this may not have such an impact in the game.

Del Bosque’s have a series of selection issues that will be keeping him awake at night: the absence of Spain’s all-time goalscorer David Villa who broke his leg back in December is having a massive impact on the squad that have struggle to score in the two most challenging group stage encounters. Strangely, the experienced coach made a huge mistake by not including Roberto Soldado in the squad and they may pay the consequences of this in the next match.

So even with injuries Spain still remain a threatening team but the reason why I think they will fail is that they are tired and key players have already won everything and the feeling is that they would rather be on holiday than play yet another tournament.

Meanwhile, second favourites Germany look a real value to me at 4.30. They were in impressive in South Africa and since then they have only grown in experience and quality.

England will probably face Germany in the semi-finals if they can beat the Azzurri. Following England’s qualification for the quarter-finals there has been the usual wave of patriotic punting in support of the team. I am a tipster and although I’m the same as everyone else in wanting an England win, I also need to objectively analyse the real chances of success. As always the England fans and media have been too quick to applaud Roy Hodgson’s men. Let’s be honest: they have been lucky to get this far and I don’t think they are equipped to get past Germany. I think a semi-final will be a good result considering the circumstances before this tournament: I’d like to be wrong but Germany are much stronger.

Having said that, I don’t think we will get hammered the same way as we did two years ago, but we cannot simply rely on Gerrard crossing the ball upfront hoping that Rooney’s new hair will be ruined! The Germans could have an easy route to the final, where they could meet either France or Portugal. The Portuguese cannot be underestimated – they kept the Germans at bay for nearly 90 minutes – and should reach the next round easily and they should have a decent chance against the French or Spanish.

At Tips-Free-Bets.com we provide the best football betting tips on every Euro 2012 quarter-final match. We use a mixture of experience and data and this is the reason why our winning rate is around 75% – much higher than any other serious tipping site on internet.  We also have a close relationship with top bookmakers and we are able to negotiate exclusive free bets and money back promotions so make sure you visit us daily during the tournament.

Insert Headline About Wayne Rooney

We don’t have to compete against other blogs in newsagents, supermarkets and convenience stores, so I’ve not been up all night thinking of a terrible pun about the return of The Messiah.

There are only ten teams left in the tournament: tonight we’ll find out the last of the quarter finalists but as long as England don’t lose we’ll be through to face Spain or Italy at the weekend.

First of all, the game last Friday was the first time for a while that I’ve seen England play in a game that reminded me of domestic football for a long time. On the one hand, that’s a good thing: after a very ropey opening to the second half and having realised what could be at stake, the team dug deep and managed to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory. So far so good: after having had a few ciders at the house of a friend, I walked home feeling very pleased that I’d seen such a spirited fight back.

However, the reality of the situation hit home as I walked past the local stadium. For those of you that don’t know, I am a season ticket holder at an nPower Championship club who haven’t been doing particularly well over the last couple of seasons: and that’s where the reality hit me. What we saw last Friday was a Football League game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the league system in England is almost unique these days and I’m reasonably certain that the Championship is still one of the best supported competitions in Europe. Andy Carroll’s goal was a classic English centre forward’s header that Dixie Dean, Ted Drake or Tommy Lawton would’ve been proud of.

That being said, the Championship is a second tier competition. At times on Friday, England were extremely poor – the old cliche about ‘poor first touch’ was much in evidence once again – against a team that is amongst the top 20 in the world without having ever really done anything at international level for almost two decades. Of the six teams that have qualified for the quarter finals, only the Czechs are ranked lower by FIFA than the Swedes but only Spain and Germany are ranked higher than us. We’re good…but we’re not that good.

On to tonight’s game. Today’s slightly worrying fact is that England have never beaten the hosts of a European Championship tournament: the last three games saw defeats to Italy (1968) and Sweden (1992) as well as a 2-2 draw with Portugal in 2004 before being beaten on penalties after extra time. The situation is made slightly easier by not having to beat Ukraine to qualify for the knockout rounds: the only other time we’ve played against the Ukrainians away from England was the 1-0 defeat in the World Cup qualifiers when Robert Green was sent off.

A draw would be good enough, but we have our less than secret weapon available for tonight’s game. Wayne Rooney returns, although it’s never a good idea to change a winning team, as both my wife and my mother have pointed out over the last couple of days. I wouldn’t want to do Roy Hodgson’s job so I’m going to keep away from having an opinion, but let’s just say that I can see the arguments for and against changing the starting eleven to incorporate Rooney. If selecting him means a major change of tactics – and I don’t think it does – then there’s a case to be made for him to start on the bench.

Overall, so far the tournament has been a good one with the Dutch being a major disappointment whilst the Germans look the pick of the bunch – and before you start wondering, I have put my money where my mouth is. I’m not going to wax lyrical about the Spanish: they were kept in check by the Italians and Croatians but had a field day against an Irish side who were described as a ‘pub team’ by a friend of mine who has Irish ancestry and as a typical British team by commentators in both Belgium and Hungary. The biggest surprise is that Russia were knocked out – although to be fair they didn’t have to go far to get home – and how ridiculously fussy UEFA have been about non-issues like German fans throwing screwed up bits of paper and Nicholas Bendtner’s sponsored underpants.

The most predictable aspect of the tournament: Clive Tyldesley and Mark Lawrenson – although I must admit that ITV’s coverage has been far more entertaining with the tableaux of Polish street life going on behind them. So far we’ve had a balloon seller smoking a fag, a man with a ferret on a lead and some drunken Polish teenagers being cleared out of the square by the riot squad. As far as I know, there aren’t any charity muggers operating there…yet.

Plenty Of Positives To Be Taken From England’s Draw With France

Looks like my doom and gloom about the Euro 2012 campaign was based almost entirely on my dental requirements. Yesterday we saw a different type of England performance: more conservative and defensively minded than we’ve seen for a while, but apart from Samir Nasri’s goal, the French threat was dealt with effectively.

Anyway, enough from me. Richard Smith takes a look at last night’s game and gives his ratings. Next up: Sweden on Friday.

Roy Hodgson and his England team can come away from their opening game at Euro 2012 against France pleased with themselves having earned a very creditable draw. France looked like a good all round team and one which will pose problems for any side in the tournament.

If France do have a weakness, it is in the central defensive partnership of Adil Rami and Philippe Mexes, which was exploited, firstly when James Milner ran on to a superb through ball into the box from Ashley Young but fluffed his lines by putting the ball into the side netting after rounding the keeper. Not long afterwards Joleon Lescott made amends for Milner’s miss after he rose highest to head England into a 1-0 lead from a well flighted Steven Gerrard free kick. It was exactly the start England had been looking for but it was also a goal that prompted the French into a more positive and direct mood.

France began to exert themselves after going behind, putting England under plenty of pressure with a number of clever runs from the often irksome, Frank Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema. However, England fought them off manfully with Gerrard and Scott Parker becoming increasingly busy in front of their own back four. They had Joe hart’s reflexes to thank for keeping the score at 1-0 after Diarra’s header from a free kick looked a certain goal. There was little that anyone could do however about Nasri’s goal that levelled the match after 39 minutes. His shot was a quick-fire accurately struck effort that found the bottom right hand corner of Joe Hart’s net and although disappointing for the England defenders, it was the reward for France’s positive attitude shown after going a goal behind.

In an overall sense, the second half belonged to France although England still created a number of counter attacks that showed promise. French efforts came in from Benzema who looked a class act up front; Ribery continued his trickery from both flanks and as is his trait, continued to fall over spectacularly every time he was fairly tackled. Cabaye was a constant thorn in the midfield and although Nasri tired, he still produced some of the best individual football seen on the night.

For England, there was no one that could be described as the outstanding man of the match, but there was no-one who played poorly. The entire team put in a good solid shift and they were well led by Gerrard. Scott Parker as is his hallmark put his body on the line, charging down at least two shots that were otherwise goal bound, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain justified his selection with a couple of lively touches when going forwards and he showed plenty of maturity when it came to defending. His naiveté at this level did cost him a booking however but apart from that, England fans should be pleased with his contribution.

Overall, England probably surprised a few people with their performance and it was one which certainly offers encouragement ahead of the remaining two group games and hopefully beyond! The odds about England winning Euro 2012 were cut from 14/1 to 12/1 on the back of the this result and Hodgson’s men are 4/7 to make the Quarter Finals and are 2/1 chance to win the group.

England Player Ratings

Joe Hart – 7: A couple of good saves but handling a little unsure at times.

Glen Johnson – 7: A good all round game who joined the attack whenever match prudence allowed.

John Terry – 7: Made a couple of significant tackles on Benzema and cleared his lines well when necessary.

Joleon Lescott – 8: Formed a solid partnership with Terry but gets an extra point for scoring England’s goal.

Ashley Cole – 8: Played to his usual high standard and always offering his support to the attack. Combined well with Oxlade-Chamberlain, both in defence and attack.

James Milner – 7: Not always able to make the crosses that Hodgson had hoped for, but played with a great industry and was always reliable when needing to defend.

Steven Gerrard – 7: Led by example, but finding himself defending more than he was attacking. He and Parker formed what must have appeared to be a brick wall at times in the deep midfield, which regularly succeeded in breaking up French play.

Scott Parker – 7: Put in a typical performance, full of effort, unflinching tackles and great desire to succeed.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7: A very encouraging start to the tournament who fully justified his selection. He dazzled in one movement in the first half which saw him skilfully go past two French defenders in the blink of an eye.

Ashley Young – 7: Not always the most prominent but Young showed that he was up to the task of filling Wayne Rooney’s boots. He combined well with Danny Welbeck and although never really getting close to scoring, he showed enough deftness to fill the same role against Sweden later this week.

Danny Welbeck – 7: A very encouraging display which should be enough to give him the nod over Andy Carroll for the next match. He put in plenty of endeavour although the threat that he posed in the first half an hour slowly diminished as the game developed.

Euro 2012: A Trip To The Dentist?

This morning as I was brushing my teeth I came up with an metaphor. This tournament is going to be like a trip to the dentist. Even if everything goes reasonably well, I’ll probably still need a scale and polish.

However, on this morning’s evidence there seems to be a hole that needs filling at the back, which could turn into something painful if it encounters anything harder or sharper than it was expecting over the next couple of days.

England’s European Championship campaigns have – on the whole – been worse than those in the World Cup. The main reason for this is that the group stages are much tougher due to the absence of the type of teams we’re normally drawn against (and subsequently draw with) in the World Cup. Euro 2012 features seven of the top ten national teams in the world – all the teams in Group B are in that classification – so these days the European Championships are reminiscent of the second group stages in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups. It’s vital to remember that: just by qualifying for this tournament we’re amongst the elite national sides of world football.

The downside is exactly how unsuccessful we’ve been in this tournament over the years. The best we’ve done is beaten semi finalists (1968 and 1996) but in three of the last five competitions we’ve failed to get out of the group stage: after beating Spain in Naples on 18th June 1980, it was almost exactly sixteen years until we won another game in the finals within 90 minutes. To make you even more depressed, it’s nearly eight years since we last played a game in the finals – the 2-2 draw against Portugal that we ultimately lost on penalties.

Here are some other stats to cheer you up:

We’ve not beaten France since Le Tournoi (June 1997)

We’ve not beaten Sweden outside England since May 1937. Eleven days after this happened.

We lost the only other time we played Ukraine outside England and Robert Green was sent off.

However…here are the silver linings:

England actually went up a place in the revised FIFA rankings that were released on Wednesday: this is the highest ranked England team to take part in the European Championships since the FIFA rankings were introduced in 1994.

Including 1996, our recent record in the Euros is as good as Italy’s and better than Russia

Roy Hodgson’s record with both the Swiss and Finnish national teams has been referred to – but not necessarily understood – by the media. He has a proven track record of doing far better than expected with modest players: although the current England side is better than the sides I just mentioned, it’ll be interesting to see what he can do with better players at international level.

Personally, I think it’ll be enough to qualify from the group: then the adventure really begins but first of all we have to avoid defeat against the French in a couple of hours time. Let’s see what happens: I’ll be back tomorrow with my analysis of what happened this afternoon.

Five Euro 2012 Predictions For England

Guest blogger Richard Smith of Englandbettingodds.com polishes his crystal ball and takes a look at some of the England markets available for punters before the start of the tournament.

With the threat of a smear campaign being launched against England’s new boss, Roy Hodgson, after he ignored the squad selection claims of Rio Ferdinand, England head to the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine already under pressure.

The beauty of Hodgson however is that he is very broad shouldered and has an uncanny ability to fend off negatives and concentrate solely on the positives. He was not every England fans idea of the next national team manager but he made it very clear that he he wanted the job more than anything else. This is clearly a trait that confirms that Roy Hodgson is a man who is prepared to stand up and be counted!

The performances of his England side at Euro 2012 will undoubtedly be the yardstick from which he is judged by the FA, the media or the fans. A good tournament and he will be a hero a bad one he’s a failure and will be facing an up hill battle come the start of the World Cup qualifiers in September.

All that said, what can Hodgson and the England team achieve at Euro 2012? What actually would be regarded as abject failure, modest failure or better still, success?

Here are five bold predictions for the fate of England at Euro 2012:

  1. England will open their campaign with a scoreless draw against France, a result that should help enormously in qualifying from Group D and into the knock out stages. The two friendlies for which Hodgson has been in charge against Norway and Belgium has seen the side put up solid defensive performances  and that can continue.
  2. England will defeat both Ukraine and Sweden in Group D but will only finish in second place behind France. “Les Bleus” will also win their other two games in the group but will finish above England with a slightly better goal difference. England and France will therefore qualify to meet either Italy or Spain in the Quarter Finals.
  3. England will be eliminated at the Quarter Final stages of the tournament by Spain. Whilst the draw for the group was kind to England, the fact they will play a team from Group C in the Quarter Final was not so kind and with Spain likely to top that group, it is likely that the last eight will be where England’s European Championship hopes come to an end.
  4. England will score a total of just three goals in four matches played. They will beat both Ukraine and Sweden by 1-0 and lose by 2-1 in the Quarter final. England can be backed to defeat Sweden 1-0 at 11/2 via Paddy Power and at 6/1 to defeat Ukraine by the same scoreline. England to score 4 goals or less in the tournament can be backed with Coral with odds of 11/8.
  5. England’s three goalscorers will be Danny Welbeck, who will score against Sweden, Wayne Rooney, who will hit the winner against Ukraine on his return from suspension and Steven Gerrard who will score in the Quarter final.

Euro 2012 has got to be the first tournament in many years where England go in with little to no expectations from the fans or media. Bookmakers have reported nowhere near as much support for England as in years gone by and odds of 14/1 to win a tournament are much bigger than they would normally be. Fans with “blind faith” may even suggest that the lack of expectation could well work in the team’s favour but in reality it’s difficult to get excited about the current team.

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.

Sharp Fan Labs Survey Provides Fascinating Data

Jerry and I were recently approached by Sharp Fan Labs about analysing some of their data – they’re currently involved in a massive survey of European football fans.

When I saw some of the information that they’ve collected I knew that it would be something that our readers would be interested in, especially as Euro 2012 starts tomorrow. Although we’ve concentrated on England and the other teams in Group D, it’s fascinating to see how closely our attitudes match one of biggest rivals and how other countries see both themselves and us.

The first aspect that comes across about how we see England’s chances is that compared to past tournaments expectations seem to have been lowered. For example only 45% of the England fans have confidence in the both the team and Roy Hodgson – which might sound like a lot, but is not a great deal when it’s compared to the 74% of German fans that have confidence in the Nationalelf. In contrast, the French and Swedish fans are not as confident as we are but that may be because they know what they’re getting. Both Laurent Blanc and Erik Hamren have been in charge of their teams for longer than two games: we’re not even sure what the starting XI for next week’s game against France will be.

64% of English fans also think that the squad is lacking team spirit, which is the first of a number of aspects we share with French fans – to put it simply, neither ourselves nor our friends across the Channel believe that our respective teams have the necessary esprit de corps: between us we had the lowest scores of the countries that have taken part in the survey. To me that appears to be a similar attitude but for different reasons: the Premier League is not only far more tribal than the England national team (think of Evra/Suarez) but is also a bigger global brand that is popular around the world. To some extent that’s similar to Ligue 1, but my guess is that French fans remember the meltdowns that happened at Euro 2008 and the last World Cup: although Blanc seems to be doing a good job of preventing a repeat, one bad result for Les Bleus could burst the bubble.

Another area where we share common ground with the French fans is in terms of knowledge of past tournaments and the one that starts tomorrow. In this category, we occupied two of the top five places across the teams that qualified for Euro 2012 and easily outperformed the Swedes and Ukrainians – who filled two of the bottom three places. I’m not sure if that’s because a higher proportion of their fans from either of the latter countries only have a mild interest in the game: it could also be that they aren’t as obsessive as either ourselves or our French counterparts.

Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that the Swedish and Ukrainian fans scored higher in terms of ‘dedication’ than English and French fans. Dedication is hard to define: it could range from draping a flag out of your bedroom window or having your face painted with your flag to spending thousands of Pounds, Euros, Krone or Hryven following your side around Eastern Europe this summer. At the risk of sounding too cynical but with the experience of Euro 96, it’s probably far easier to be dedicated to your national team when they’re playing at home.

If you re-read the first four paragraphs, there seems to be a pattern emerging amongst followers of the countries in Group D. Both English and French fans seem to be less enthusiastic generally but more knowledgeable than their Swedish and Ukrainian contemporaries but as I mentioned earlier that could be based on the weight of unrealistic expectations and a general cynicism about the real motivation of the players. On the other hand, the Swedish and Ukrainian fans may take these tournaments less seriously than we do because their definition of success is more realistic and they perceive that players genuinely seem to appreciate the opportunity to both take part in them and to try to do well for their countries.

However, it’s never as straightforward as that. One of the best definitions of belief that I’ve come across is ‘confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof’ and having already mentioned a lack of confidence in the England team and manager, an impressive 71% of our fans believe England can win Euro 2012. That being said, the majority of fans across all countries in Group D believe their team can win Euro 2012: given past results, the 69% of French fans who believe their side can win the tournament probably have the best chance of not being disappointed.

The Spanish fans are the most confident that their team will win Euro 2012 – an astonishing 97% of them think that they can retain the title. It’s amazing what a bit of overdue success can do, but I would imagine that number sounds ridiculously over confident to everyone else, particularly as no country has ever won consecutive European Championships – and the two best players in La Liga are Argentinian and Portuguese.

Looking beyond Group D, there are a couple of very interesting results worth commenting on. Irish fans came first in both dedication and knowledge, which when you think about it isn’t that surprising. Only one of the Irish squad plays his club football in a country where English isn’t a first language (Aiden McGeady of Dinamo Moscow) and with over half the team playing in the Premier League it’s necessary for a typical Irish fan has to have a good knowledge of football outside his or her own country – something that’s not always the case with England fans.

Overall it’s a very interesting study especially as it seems to agree with the theory that there’s a much more realistic attitude from England fans than there has been before past tournaments. Possibly the most surprising thing for me was the similarities between French fans and ourselves, although frustration that we should both be doing better is important in that context as well as being an integral part of being a supporter at any level.

Although we don’t seem to have much confidence in the team (we also find them frustrating, lacking team spirit and undisciplined) when you learn that England are the fourth most feared team in the tournament and – behind Spain and Germany – the team that fans from other countries most want to beat this summer it’s actually surprisingly uplifting. Although we seem to be less optimistic about our chances than we normally are, at least we have some consolation: beating England is still seen as an achievement by fans in other countries.

That’s something that England fans and players alike should be both aware and proud of.

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.

Frank Lampard Ruled Out

After picking up a thigh strain on Wednesday afternoon, Frank Lampard is out of the England squad for Euro 2012. He’ll be replaced by Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson.

I’ll update this post tomorrow, but from where I’m sitting I wonder if this is the end of Lampard’s international career. He’ll be almost 36 by the time the World Cup takes place in Brazil in a couple of years time: I suppose it’s possible that he could take part in the qualifiers, but with the current squad containing younger, alternative options then it might be better if Roy Hodgson explores those possibilities.

Having said that, there won’t be any argument about whether Lampard and Gerrard can play together in midfield this summer. This could be a blessing in disguise, but I suspect that we might see an even more conservative England line up against France than we were expecting.