England’s two 1-0 wins over Norway and Belgium in their build-up to Euro 2012 have hardly set the pulses racing for England fans. Expectation is low, especially with injuries and off-field distractions, but while many are writing off Roy Hodgson and his charges’ chances, there are just as many mentioning two examples of why England still could prevail come July 1.
Optimists point the curious cases of Greece and Chelsea. Both are examples of teams who entered a competition as rank outsiders, but prevailed, largely due to defensive discipline, organisation and a reasonable amount of luck. The latter example is one from barely a month ago and some of those victors occupy spots in this England team, so at least a connection is there. John Terry and Ashley Cole both played pivotal roles in helping Chelsea land Champions League glory, and of course, teammates Gary Cahill and Frank Lampard would have involved too but for late injuries.
Cahill’s injury was the source of an almighty problem for Hodgson. Not just was he losing an in-form player who has performed so well on the big stage since his January move to Chelsea, but it also led to the Rio Ferdinand debate being re-opened, with far more venom, once Martin Kelly was summoned as his replacement. It is hard to justify such a decision within the ‘footballing reasons’ Hodgson laid out upon Ferdinand’s initial exclusion and he is in for some tough questioning when the subject is revisited at his next press conference. It’s an unwelcome distraction the former Fulham boss could do without and his credibility may take a hit if he continues with his original defence of Ferdinand’s exclusion.
If it is a case of Ferdinand and Terry not being able to play alongside each other, then Hodgson had to make that choice. One has to wonder if the FA should have made this choice for their manager, especially with him being new to the role. When Terry was stripped of the captaincy, should he have also lost the chance to continue representing his country? It seemed like a halfway measure when the options were one or the other – between innocent until proven guilty and banning someone who is to stand charge for alleged racist abuse.
Amongst all of this, it is a great shame Kelly’s call-up has been so over-shadowed. The Liverpool youngster is a talented defender but he is yet to nail down a spot at his club and England are now left with a huge problem if a couple more injuries hit. Phil Jagielka can be trusted to come into the side if one of first-choice pair Joleon Lescott or Terry get injured, but behind him Hodgson will be left with Phil Jones, who hasn’t convinced at centre-back in the early stages of his Manchester United career, or Kelly, who can play centre-back, but whose experience is at right-back.
Whatever the reasons behind it, Hodgson will hope the defensive situation doesn’t have a telling effect on his side’s chances. If it does, there will be even more difficult questions to answer than there are now.
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