Euro 2012: England expects?
England are in Pot Two, and will be looking for a favourable draw that could see them in the same group as Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, increasing their chances of getting through to the latter stages.
Progression beyond the group stage in Poland and Ukraine next year, and ideally to victory, is arguably more important than ever for England.
Barring a spectacular volte-face Fabio Capello will leave his role as manager after a tenure that’s promised so much, but failed to deliver when on the main stage. It’s almost certainly the last major tournament for many of England’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’ – the likelihood is that Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard will be fringe, rather than first-choice, players come the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
But is a successful campaign perhaps more essential in order to enthuse a fan base that appears increasingly frustrated with major aspects of the national game?
England won their last two friendly fixtures, most notably against World Champions Spain, but what also made the headlines was the attendance at the second of those matches against Sweden. Wembley saw a crowd of just under 49,000 – the lowest England has seen at the new stadium. While a midweek match in tough economic times explains it in part, it was almost half the attendance of the Spain match just days before.
So is part of the reason that fans feel the divide between them and players is greater than ever? Do fans question whether players really care? Is the passion the supporters feel not felt by the guys on the pitch?
Certainly it doesn’t help that some players continue to set bad examples. Allegations of racism aside, swearing and hostility towards referees persists, despite the introduction by the Football Association of good initiatives such as the Respect campaign.
Indeed, yesterday’s Your Call, which featured the FA’s director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking and looked at the state of grassroots football in the country, saw fans once again call for better examples to be set by those at the top of the profession.
There’s no doubt the country – or at least England - will get behind the team come the summer, and there are many reasons to be cheerful (the new crop of young players especially). But there seems to be a good argument that a successful campaign will do more than just push the team up the world rankings.
Will Cooper is Senior Content Producer at 5 live