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, Iâ€™ll probably still need a scale and polish.
However, on this morningâ€™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.
Englandâ€™s European Championship campaigns have â€“ on the whole â€“ 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 weâ€™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 â€“ all the teams in Group B are in that classification â€“ so these days the European Championships are reminiscent of the second group stages in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups. Itâ€™s vital to remember that: just by qualifying for this tournament weâ€™re amongst the elite national sides of world football.
The downside is exactly how unsuccessful weâ€™ve been in this tournament over the years. The best weâ€™ve done is beaten semi finalists (1968 and 1996) but in three of the last five competitions weâ€™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, itâ€™s nearly eight years since we last played a game in the finals â€“ the 2-2 draw against Portugal that we ultimately lost on penalties.
Here are some other stats to cheer you up:
Weâ€™ve not beaten France since Le Tournoi (June 1997)
Weâ€™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 Italyâ€™s and better than Russia
Roy Hodgsonâ€™s record with both the Swiss and Finnish national teams has been referred to – but not necessarily understood â€“ 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, itâ€™ll be interesting to see what he can do with better players at international level.
Personally, I think itâ€™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. Letâ€™s see what happens: Iâ€™ll be back tomorrow with my analysis of what happened this afternoon.