Fabio Capello will have breathed a sigh of relief following England’s draw for next summer’s Euro 2012. Given his side were the last to discover their fate, it was an anxious wait through the rather dull proceedings of Friday’s draw. Never mind Euro 2012, it was more like Eurovision. I almost expected Terry Wogan to leap onto the stage and announce the United Kingdom had no votes for another year running. Once the main event got underway, it threw up the proverbial ‘Group of Death’ as usual, indeed the Three Lions will be delighted to avoid Group B that pitted the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Portugal against each other. One suspects Fabio will have also been pleased to avoid Group C, where not only did the tricky Croatians lie in wait, but also Capello’s old sparring partner, Geovanni Trapattoni, whose Irish side would have loved to have put one over on England. Oh, and there was the small matter of Spain.
So onto Group D. Well it’s the French again, cue memories of Euro 2004 and Zidane emptying the contents of his stomach before slotting an injury-time winning penalty. England haven’t beaten them in their last 5 meetings and they are first up in Donetsk on June 11, a match that will ultimately reveal the true extent of England’s title ambitions. The French may be unbeaten in their last 17 matches, but they are hardly the side of yesteryear, shorn of that once-in-a-generation group of players that featured superstars like Zidane, Henry and Vieira. There’s also the small matter of their pitiful displays in the last two major tournaments, failing to win a single game and England will fancy their chances of turning them over first up. Sweden, well that draw was perhaps inevitable. England seem to have a magnetic attraction to them at major tournaments, producing a couple of entertaining draws in recent years, remember Joe Cole’s volley at the 2006 World Cup? England did record their first victory over the Swedes since 1968 at Wembley last month, courtesy of Gareth Barry’s first half header and given the dour defensive performance their opponents produced that night, Capello’s men will relish the prospect of taking them on in the group stages. A lot depends on Ibrahimovic and whether he shows up, but his record against English sides, be it at club or international level, is quite frankly appalling. That leaves co-hosts Ukraine. Obviously taking on the Eastern Europeans in front of their raucous home fans will make the challenge significantly harder, but in terms of FIFA World Rankings, they are supposedly the second worst side in the competition, ranked at 55, with only Poland below them. If England can’t beat them, they might as well stay at home. England, you fancy, will be quietly confident about their chances of progressing, though an easy group doesn’t necessarily represent a bye into the knockout stages, just look at South Africa last summer and England’s woes in seeing off footballing heavyweights USA, Algeria and Slovenia. Having said that, Group A in this tournament, containing Poland, Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic is possibly the weakest pool seen in an international tournament for a long time.
Problems lie more in the logistics department. England’s games will take place in Donetsk, Kiev then Donetsk again. Given they have already ruled out the possibility of switching their tournament base from Krakow in Poland, there will be some tiresome journeys of 930 miles to Donetsk and 540 miles to Kiev. Not exactly ideal. The fans will suffer as well, as for some financial restrictions could prevent them from hopping on a private jet from one city to another, and driving could prove difficult, given Ukraine doesn’t actually have any motorways. They have recently stopped using the horse and cart though.
So what does the competition hold now for England? Well, they’ve avoided the horror draw, whilst other rivals will thus be eliminated in the tough looking Groups B and C, but then again, you can’t rule anything out where the Three Lions are concerned. Even the most straightforward looking fixture can turn into a nightmare, and let’s be honest, we’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions. So although I loathe to big up England’s hopes more than is strcitly necessary (though I’m sure our lovely supportive tabloid press will do that job for me,) Capello’s young brigade stand more than a decent chance of seeing off the pool stages. Unfortunately, then comes the penalty shoot-out…