Ten steps to England winning their Euro group
Learning from the mistakes of the 2010 World Cup will go a long way to ensuring a fit, motivated and properly rested squad
1. Rooney wins appeal
On Thursday in Nyon, Uefa will hear the Football Association's appeal against Wayne Rooney's ban from all three group matches following his red card for kicking the Montenegro player Miodrag Dzudovic. As Manchester United play in Switzerland the previous night, Rooney will attend in person, making the case that he left the pitch without dissent and has subsequently apologised, and that Dzudovic was not injured and has offered his support. Having the ban reduced to two games – the most England can hope for – would allow him to play against Ukraine in what could be acrucial third match.
2. Terry case dropped
As well as being without their main striker, England may lose their captain for the start of the tournament. Last Thursday the Metropolitan Police handed the file on John Terry's alleged racist abuse of Anton Ferdinand, which he strongly denies, to the Crown Prosecution Service. They must now decide whether to prosecute. If they do, the uncertainty will drag on. Should Terry be found guilty then, whatever the sentence, he would lose the captaincy and almost certainlyhis place in the squad.
3. Wilshere, Gerrard fully fit
Qualification for the finals and the recent 1-0 win double in friendly matches against Spain and Sweden were achieved without either Jack Wilshere's creativity or Steven Gerrard's drive, but although Scott Parker in particular, plus Gareth Barry,Phil Jones and Jack Rodwell, all performed manfully, England would clearly want Wilshere and Gerrard fully fit well before June.
4. No spring injuries
The run-up to most of England's summer tournaments has been marred by injury concerns, often affecting the most important players. In 2010 it was Rio Ferdinand, in 2006 Rooney; two years earlier, John Terry missed the first game, and in 2002 Gerrard withdrew and the nation held its breath after David Beckham broke a metatarsal. Research has shown that players in England are more likely to pick up an injury in this busiest part of the season because, unlike almost all other European countries, there is no winter break.
5. Capello picks the right squad
It has been encouraging to see young players such as Jones, Wilshere, Kyle Walker and Chris Smalling prove they can perform at international level, while others such as Rodwell, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge still have the chance to do so. It will nevertheless be vital that Fabio Capello, who admitted he should have taken Theo Walcott to the World Cup, selects the right blend of youth and experience, as well as the correct balance between positions.
6. Sensible period of R & R
Another World Cup mistake the manager has admitted to was not allowing the players a longer break between the end of the domestic season and the beginning of preparations for the tournament. Flying back and forwards to a training camp at altitude in Austria was also bad planning. Capello and his staff worked the players hard but were shocked by how weary they were in South Africa, and intend to have them fresher this time.
7. Settle into camp
The decision taken before the draw was made to be based in Krakow in southern Poland may look flawed now all three group games are in Ukraine, but the FA are adamant that as well as good training facilities, Krakow allows the squad to stay in the centre of a pleasant town that is neither a tournament venue nor an obvious location for fans – certainly not English ones. So players should be able to avoid the monotony of their isolation in South Africa.
8. Don't lose first game
Avoiding defeat in the first match is a maxim of tournament football, which is why so many opening games are dull. England begin against France, their strongest opponents, even if only seeded in the fourth pot. Losing to them in the first match at Euro 2004 eventually meant finishing only second in the group and having to face the hosts, Portugal, in the quarter-finals instead of Greece.
9. Beat Sweden again
Until last month at Wembley, England had not beaten Sweden in 12 games dating back to 1968 – seven of them competitive ones. Ending that run denied the Swedes a useful psychological advantage going into June's second group match. To win in Kiev, having taken a point or three from France, would set England up nicely for the final game.
10. Hope Ukraine are out before third game
England have only ever played away to Ukraine once before, losing 1-0 two years ago when qualification for the World Cup finals was already assured and Robert Green was sent off in the first quarter of an hour. Rooney was England's best player that night and it would be a huge bonus to have him coming back fit and fresh for this game. Best of all, however, would be if Ukraine had lost both their opening matches and had no chance of qualifying.
Player to watch: Jack Wilshere
The player I'm most excited about is English, writes Ian Holloway. Jack Wilshere is one of the most exceptional footballers this country has produced for many a year and, assuming he is fully fit, I think he will be a one of tournament's standout players. But as for the overall winners, I can see only one team out there who have a better chance than Spain, and that's their reserves.
Ukraine's Group D venues: From Donetsk's Welsh past to Kiev's cultured present
England begin and end their group quest in a city founded by a Welsh-man. That it is over 2,000 miles away, and the most easterly place to have staged a game in any European finals is one of the many quirks of Ukraine. Donetsk, with a population, of one million, used to be called Yuzovka (or Hughesovka) after an engineer from Merthyr Tydfil, John Hughes, who founded the city by developing coal mines and a steel plant in the area. Mining and metalwork are still major components of the area's industry. Among the attractions is the Liverpool Live Music Bar, which boasts over 20 varieties of whisky, though some cost over £15 a shot. The beer is cheaper, or at least it was until they realised the English were coming.
England's second group game takes place in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, although Ukrainians prefer 'Kyiv' to the Russian transliteration. It is a much more historic, cultured and pleasant city than its Group D co-host, boasting the World Heritage site of St Sophia Cathedral and much history besides. It also has a number of fine restaurants.
How England's rivals shape up
Fifa ranking: 55; Uefa ranking: 15
Manager: Oleg Blokhin
Qualified: as co-hosts
Top scorer: N/A
Previous best: N/A
England v Ukraine:P4 W3 D0 L1 F7 A2
Last win: 2009 2-1 (Wembley)
Last defeat: 2009 0-1 (Dnepr)
Fifa Ranking: 15; Uefa ranking: 12
Coach: Laurent Blanc
Qualified: 1st, P10 W6 D3 L1
Top scorer: Benzema, Gourcuff, Malouda 3
Previous best: 1984, 2000 winners.
England v France:P28 W16 D4 L8 F66 A35
Last win: 1997 1-0 (Montpellier)
Last defeat: 2010 0-1 (Wembley)
Fifa ranking: 18; Uefa ranking: 10
Coach: Erik Hamren
Qualified: 2nd, P10 W8 D0 L2
Top scorer: Ibrahimovic 5
Previous best: 1992 semi-final.
England v Sweden:
P22 W7 D9 L6 F33 A26
Last win: 2011 1-0 (Wembley)
Last defeat: 2004 0-1 (Gothenburg)
What the others are up against
Poland, Russia, Greece, Czech Republic
The one that all four teams will be delighted with; everyone wanting to be in with Poland, who are much the weakest of the four top seeds. Russia pulled out that plum, which England had been hoping would be theirs, but the Poles themselves know they could hardly have had it better. It means the opening match of the tournament will pit the co-hosts against Greece in Warsaw, which will be initially passionate but could end up anti-climactic. The Greeks, dull winners in 2004, scored only 14 goals while remaining unbeaten in 10 qualifying games, two against Malta, and will be desperate not to lose their first game. Russia can see themselves as group winners, possibly setting up a repeat of the epic against Holland four years ago, while Petr Cech's Czech Republic, from the fourth pot, could not have wished for a better outcome.
Holland, Germany, Portugal, Denmark
Fabio Capello said there was a"terrible moment" when he thought that England were about to be lumped in with the top seeds Holland, plus Portugal and Denmark. Germany, who are many people's favourites for the tournament, came out instead to complete by far the most exciting section in the opening stage, based in the unfashionable venues of Kharkiv and Lviv. The Germans and Dutch will be fancied to carry their bitter old rivalry through into the next stage, but Portugal, if they have Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Raul Meireles and the rest of their star performers fit and firing, can do some damage to that cosy assumption. Denmark will be the outsiders of this strong pack, although in midfielder Christian Eriksen they have a playmaker who will certainly have the eyes of bigger clubs than Ajax trained on him.
Spain, Italy, Croatia, Republic of Ireland
Capello was keen to avoid this one as well and happy to see his countrymen Cesare Prandelli (Italy) and Giovanni Trapattoni (Ireland) thrown together. The latter will at least be well briefed for the meeting with his homeland in the third game, after opening against Croatia in a game they need to win, then playing the holders Spain. Croatia, like the Republic, came through the play-offs, winning 3-0 in Turkey and will be well organised under Slaven Bilic, with more than a touch of flair from Luka Modric. Italy start against the Spanish, then have two games in Poznan, where Mario Balotelli, on whom they may be dangerously reliant for goals, will be hoping to spark the local celebration that Manchester City have adopted.
Odds (William Hill): 9-4 Spain; 7-2 Germany; 7-1 England, Holland; 12-1 France; 14-1 Italy; 16-1 Russia; 18-1 Portugal; 40-1 Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Ukraine; 50-1 Ireland; 66-1 Sweden; 100-1 Denmark.
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