It barely seems like five minutes ago that the England team were trudging off the pitch in Belo Horizonte after being knocked out of the World Cup at the first hurdle but already attention is now turning to the next challenge. The qualifiers for Euro 2016 get under-way for the Three Lions on Monday evening and it marks the start of a new era for Roy Hodgson and the England players as they look to build towards France in two years’ time.
Apathy towards the England National team seems to be at an all-time high among the fans and you can hardly blame them after the World Cup. They managed to garner just a single point from their three games in Brazil over the summer but perhaps more worrying than that, was the performances from the team. When the pressure was on the England squad, they froze on the big stage and that has become an all too familiar tail at Major Tournaments over the past few years.
Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard have retired from England duty following the World Cup and with the likes of Ashley Cole and John Terry cast aside before the tournament, it is now time for a new group of senior players to emerge. Wayne Rooney was really the only candidate to be the new captain of the national team and how he performs over the next couple of years is likely to be vital as Hodgson looks to build a young new squad around him.
Roy Hodgson would certainly have been delighted when the draw for Euro 2016 was made with England only seemingly having to go through the motions to make it to France. UEFA have simplified the process for the best nations with the top two teams from each group qualifying automatically for the European Championships and it would be a massive shock if they were to fall short. They are likely to go head-to-head with Switzerland, who they play on Monday night in the opening qualifier, for top spot in Group E with both expected to progress comfortably. Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino make up the rest of the pool and with that in mind, England are as short as 2/5 with Bet365 to win their group, while Skybet go 1/50 about England qualifying for Euro 2016 in any position.
Qualification for Euro 2016 is unlikely to be an issue for England but Roy Hodgson will know that building a squad to perform better when they do arrive at the big tournaments has to be his main aim over the next two years. Despite the doom and gloom surrounding England at the moment there is no doubt that there are a number of young players who have plenty of talent and Hodgson will be hoping that those with the potential emerge as regular first team players over the course of the qualifying campaign and heading into France 2016.
The likes of Ross Barkley of Everton and Luke Shaw of Man United are particularly exciting although both will miss out on the first match against Switzerland after picking up injuries. They will both surely be regulars by the time Euro 2016 arrives, while the same can be said of Raheem Sterling who continues to go from strength-to-strength in his career. The young Liverpool forward is still just 19 but he had a break-out campaign last season under Brendan Rodgers while he was one of the few England players to emerge from the World Cup with any credit at all. He has started this season even better for Liverpool and given his ability to play out wide or in behind the striker, Sterling is likely to emerge as the star player for England as they progress through the qualification stages for Euro 2016.
Sterling is likely to offer plenty of trickery for England going forward but Roy Hodgson will need to find new leaders on the pitch following the retirements of Gerrard and Lampard in particular. Jordan Henderson is certainly one who is likely to fall into that category given his exceptional form for Liverpool in the engine room while Jack Wilshere will also come under the spotlight. The Arsenal midfielder seems to have been around for a long time now but he has never really kicked on at the top level, especially when you consider the undoubted potential he showed as a teenager. With Gerrard and Lampard now off the scene it surely falls to Jack Wilshere to grab that key role in midfield by the scruff of the neck and along with Henderson and Ross Barkley, the three of them could well form a decent trio in the heart of new look England team.
The main area of concern for Roy Hodgson and England fans is defensively with the cupboard looking worryingly bare at the moment. Gone are the days of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Gary Neville and Ashley Cole at the back for England and Hodgson will need some new stars to emerge over the next two years if England are to be successful in the Euros. Luke Shaw is the long term man at left-back you would assume but while the partnership of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka is solid enough when it comes to qualification, they were exposed badly in Brazil and doubts have to remain about them going forward at the top level. They do however remain the best option right now though with the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Steven Caulker the next three in line but they all firstly need to play consistently at club level before being considered regular starters for England.
The advantage for England and Roy Hodgson is that with qualification for Euro 2016 likely to be straightforward, there is time to build a squad and a style of play to challenge when it comes to the next Major tournament. There is however every chance that they will need that time and the queue for punters to back England