Story by Robin Popley
With less than 24 hours until kick-off, football fans everywhere can cut short the fear of not watching the beautiful game, before the start of the new domestic campaign.
The difficult task that awaits the Three Lions in Poland and Ukraine, has been highlighted, on numerous occasions. For most English football fans, the hope of progression from the group stage would be a credible feat, considering the short-span of Roy Hodgson’s tenure. This fact is especially true, when you look around at the stiff-competition that awaits England, at this year’s European Championships.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Spain must go into the tournament as one of the two-leading favourites. As the holders of both this crown and the World Title, they have been the in-form international side, for the last 6 years. Being able to boast such talent as Casillas, Iniesta and Xavi, is enough to make most other teams look over their shoulders with dread. However, there is one other team, who have as many stars and are fortunate to still be in the early stages of their careers. Germany.
Joachim Low has named an extremely strong 23-man squad, headed by many of Bayern Munich’s finalists, Manuel Neuer and Philip Lahm to name but two. Many have tried to make out that because of their Champions League defeat to Chelsea, they may be akin to failure, yet for anyone who has seen them play recently (and can remember ‘that’ World Cup match against England) would think the former opinion to be slightly naive. It is my belief, they, are the real challengers to Spain’s crown.
Nevertheless, there are others. The Netherlands, as always, field a strong side. Defeated in the 2010 World Cup Final, there are still scores to settle for them, with justice – if it happens at all – is likely to be served during the latter stages of the competition. The key for them is whether Van Persie continues his fine goal-scoring form that saw him become Arsenal’s top scorer for yet another season. Italy, too, are being heavily favoured. Yet again, if Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli shows up, he is one of the best-forwards in the Premier League and will no doubt take this same calibre to international football. Another with an outside shot of glory, tagged as the dark-horse of this year’s competition, are Russia. With a strengthening league format, they have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, finding form not too dissimilar to Croatia during the France 1998 World Cup. Also, to the Irish, who – despite not having many ‘world-class’ players – have a great team spirit that has seen Mr. Trapattoni’s men get thus far to great credit.
As a proud English man, I do sincerely hope that Roy Hodgson makes the squad play as a unit, for the first time in several years. Furthermore, if a pride was re-instilled into wearing the shirt, I would be delighted.
Come rain or shine, though, it promises to be a fantastic tournament once more!