So England will play France, Sweden and joint-hosts Ukraine at next summer’s Euro 2012 finals. There will be many people who are pleased with that, thinking the draw has been kind on Fabio Capello’s side, although you could say it would have better for England to have been drawn alongside the big guns like Holland and Portugal. In the build up to the draw, we heard reporters talking about the best and worst case scenarios for the England team and there will no doubt be a sense of relief now that the Netherlands and Spain have been avoided.
Looking to avoid the best teams is bizarre. Do you not want to test yourselves against the very best players in the world? We hear people talking with the same crippling ambition at the time of the Champions League draws: “Barcelona is obviously the team everyone wants to avoid,” you hear from players, managers and fans alike. Why are we celebrating reaching the finals of a major tournament but at the same time hoping we don’t have to play against the best teams? These people obviously didn’t get the memo: If you ever want to be crowned champions of Europe, there’s a slight chance you will have to face a decent side or two along the way.
Being drawn in the “Group of Death” for Euro 2012 would have been just what England needed. The players have often been criticised for not being fired up enough when going into major tournaments, perhaps underestimating the opposition, with complacency occasionally creeping in. A draw against Spain, Portugal and France puts the kibosh on those feelings instantly. The players know they won’t have things easy and will have to work hard if they are to progress. The other positive effect of a tough draw is that the expectation level is lowered. England definitely have the ability to turn over the greatest footballing sides (as we saw in the recent 1-0 victory over Spain at Wembley) but they also need to know their limitations. The media can have everybody believing that the Three Lions are invincible in the run up to a big tournament only for it all to go up in flames when the heat on the pressure cooker is cranked up too high. But come up trumps against the likes of Germany, Holland or Spain in a testing group, and you deserve all the credit in the world. Lose and there’s no shame in defeat at the hands of tournament’s elite.
The likelihood is that England will now be sent to the Ukraine and Poland next summer being told qualification is not only a must but should also be achieved in style and with ease. I feel bad for Capello and the players. Embarrass yourselves against Sweden or Ukraine, then don’t even dream of coming home..