Saturday, May 28, 2016

Group B - England

Group B - England's Group

Ok, let's get the jinxing out of the way! I think England will win Euro 2016. In fact I think they'll win every match. Yes, I know this is ridiculously optimistic and that I have made pretty much the same prediction before every tournament England qualified for in my life time - and have got it wrong every time.... but that is what this mental affliction called "being a football fan" does for you.

Ok, so let me try to justify that optimism with some data.

England to Win!!

England's FIFA ranking isn't particularly encouraging, I admit. They're currently ranked 10th in the world which I think is pretty good but is also just about their average position since the rankings began.

However, if one just counts European sides, England are ranked 5th and there's good reason to think that is actually a misleadingly low position. England qualified for the European Championship by winning all ten games in their group.

I can sense the rolling eyes and the obvious response - "it was a weak group" - but teams still have to win these games and history has shown that in the past the more fancied teams fail to put in the required professionalism to win every game against weaker opposition. The bottom line is that this was the best qualifying record in the history of the European Championships.

To be honest, going by average FIFA ranking, England's group is also weak (the weakest in the tournament) the four teams having an average rank of 14.8. A better way of deciding this, however, might be to look at what the bookies are thinking. By this measure, England's group is the 3rd best and the bookies seem to be offering odds on England winning the tournament at around 9/1 - the 4th favourites behind France, Germany and Spain. Basically, if that's right, England should realistically aim to reach the semi finals this time. And, of course, if you get to the semis, all you need is a bit of luck and you could go on and win the thing.

Talking of luck, surely England are well overdue some in a finals tournament. I don't think it is just biased bitterness that makes me think they have not had the rub of the green in finals tournaments since 1966.

On top of all this is the exciting prospect of an England side that is full of buzzing talent at the moment, especially in the attacking department. Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli have come to the fore since the last World Cup, adding to Raheem Sterling who almost shone in Brasil in 2014. Their 3-2 win in a friendly against world champions Germany in Berlin at the end of March certainly added to the feel good factor. There are always the moaners who don't like Roy Hodgson but maybe the lack of expectation is England's secret weapon this time.
Citizen Kane
For me, the key match is the opener against Russia in Marseille. If England can get off to a good start and win, they have to be favourites to win the group. The second game versus Wales will hold special interest to all football fans in the UK and although the prospect of watching Gareth Bale bursting through the English defence is a little terrifying, I can't help thinking that England should be too strong for them overall and get a narrow win. The final game, against Slovakia, should be the easiest - and assuming that they will have pretty much qualified by then, an opportunity to perhaps rest a couple of key players and encourage competition for places.

If they do win the group the draw has handed them a favourable round of 16 game in Paris against one of the 3rd placed teams. Looking ahead, this could be against a team like Ukraine, Romania or the Czech Republic - a prospect that shouldn't really put much fear into English hearts.

Following this "logic" there is a good prospect that England could be facing Portugal or Belgium in the quarter final in Lille and then Spain in the semi final in Lyon. 

C'mon Wales! 

I've had a soft spot for Wales for some years now - and not just since I was inspired by dear Elaine Morgan of Mountain Ash. So, they're definitely my second favourite team in the tournament. I love the Manics so it was great to see that they had put together the "Together Stronger" song for the tournament. It's not quite up there with "Three Lions" in my opinion but it's not far off.


Of course, everyone is excited at the prospect of Gareth Bale performing at the top of his game in this tournament - let's just hope his very best in the group games is against Russia and Slovakia and not England!

It's surely largely due to Bale's influence that Wales are currently pretty much at their highest levels ever in the FIFA ranking (#24).

It would be great if both Wales and England could qualify for the next round but it's not just my Lithuanian heritage that makes me fear Russia and we should all be careful not to dismiss Slovakia.

Personally, my dream is that I'll see Wales versus Austria in the round of 16 in Nice. Then, in the quarter finals in Lille, England - perhaps against Belgium and then, two nights later, Wales v France in Paris, St Denis. Then, to cap it all off, at the fanfest under the Eiffel tower, on July 10th, England v France in the final!!

One can but dream!! If Brasil was anything to go by, my jinxing will guarantee Slovakia and Russia will qualify, and that England, Wales and both Irish sides will be out at the group stages and I'll end up watching Germany win the thing.

29th May 2016

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