With Rooney’s two match suspension, John Terry’s racism scandal threatening to divide the squad and new manager Roy Hodgson having only 19 days to prepare things are far from ideal as England head into the European Championship. However the situation is a bed of roses when compared with the no show of Euro 2008 in which the idea of a home nations competition was mooted due to the Three Lion’s failure to qualify.
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Group D Opener – France v England – 11th June
England face their biggest challenge of the group stage in their opening game against a resurgent France side that could be considered the dark horse of the competition. Les Blues have bounced back after a disastrous World Cup in 2010 under manager Laurent Blanc and they extended their unbeaten run to 18 games with a win against Germany in February.
The runner-up in Group D is likely to face defending European Champions Spain in the second round, so neither side will want to slip up and the opening game between the two favourites could also serve as the group decider. With Wayne Rooney serving the first game of a two match suspension Hodgson will have to decide which out of Carroll, Defoe and Wellbeck will offer the greatest goalscoring threat in his favoured 4-4-2 formation.
Hodgson will have little time for experimentation in the two international friendlies before the competition and France manager Laurent Blanc feels there will be no tactical surprises in store when he pits his wits against the former West Brom manager. Speaking to the Times, Blanc stated: ‘We know him well from the campaign with Fulham to the Europa League final, We know his system, his philosophy.’
‘We know he has a preference for 4-4-2, but it’s different from club to country. We’ll have to watch those friendly games to see how he’s going to line up. I’ve seen the squad. I know them all. England will be a tough opponent, but I don’t think there will be big surprises.’
The French have had the upper hand in recent games against England and are unbeaten in their last five games, winning four of those matches.The last time the two side met in group stage of Euro 2004 France were victorious thanks to two late goals from Zinedine Zidane.
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