England have a habit of underperforming at major tournaments and go into the first two games of Euro 2012 without star man Wayne Rooney. Things could have been worse for the Three Lions, though, as Rooney was only spared a three match ban after he and an FA delegation travelled to Switzerland for a heartfelt appeal. Had that not been a success, his place in the travel ling squad would have been under serious doubt.
Manager Fabio Capello, who leaves his post after the tournament, will experiment with different systems and personnel in the friendlies leading up to the championships in Poland and Ukraine as he tries to find a way of coping without the Manchester United striker for the first two games of the tournament – against France and Sweden.
A Dutch test lies in wait
England were resolute in victories over Spain and Sweden at Wembley at the end of 2011, showing a steeliness that will bode well for the tough tests that lie ahead. They will be looking to pick up where they left off when they face a stern test against the Dutch on February 29, a fixture re-arranged after the London riots last August.
The game against Holland is one of three scheduled internationals before Euro 2012, with England travelling to Norway and hosting Belgium just before the tournament. The football scores from those games may give us an indication of where England lie among Europe’s elite.
Can Fabio bow out on a high?
The tournament is a big test for Capello’s relatively young squad and will define his legacy as England manager. The Italian came in for a lot of criticism after World Cup 2010 and will be determined to bow out on a high this summer. Group games against France, Sweden and Ukraine represent a realistic opportunity of progression to the knockout phase.
There isn’t much time for England to dwell on their performance in Euro 2012. The new boss will barely have his feet under the table by the time they take on Moldova in a World Cup qualifier at the start of September. England face three more qualifiers before the end of 2012.
The year begins with hope of achievement and could end with certain players’ international careers in tatters. It is a big year for England.