Iwould love to say I'm confident that Sven Goran Eriksson's men can emulate our World Cup success in 1966. I am a proud Englishman and would be really thrilled if we could lift that famous trophy again. A year ago, I was convinced we had a first-rate chance. Now, with Wayne Rooney's metatarsal injury and with other key players like Ashley Cole and Michael Owen still lacking match fitness, I'm not so sure.
When I search the principal contenders for a winner, my eye is caught by Argentina. Yes, England beat them in that friendly in Switzerland. But as the Argentina players walked off, they didn't look too unhappy to me. The result wasn't impor-tant to them. They've got very good players and they passed us to death for an hour.
Rooney would tilt the balance. I've been saying for a long time: "God help us if he gets injured." His absence is a major blow for us. The kid makes things happen.
Despite those television pictures on Friday of him running and kicking the ball, I don't think he'll play at all. I speak as someone who knows what it's like to break a foot - although I did it after turning on it in my flip-flops as I prepared to chase after some dustmen when they hadn't taken some of our recyclables a few years ago! - and it took six weeks before I could get my shoe back on.
In six weeks, you lose your fitness. It takes a lot of hard work to get it back. You cannot take a player like Rooney, and play him half-fit. That's a myth. For the opposition, he's easier to mark and he just cannot put the effort in; so, the ball will come straight back at you.
Even without Rooney, though, we should go through from our group - probably with Sweden. With this England team's ability, if we don't get through to the knockout stages it would be a disgrace.
Eriksson has been tinkering with his formations, but I'd opt for a 4-4-2, with Owen and Jermain Defoe (if he replaces Rooney from the standby list) up front, and Peter Crouch as an alternative, depending on the opposition. I didn't think that Steven Gerrard was that convincing in that second-striker role against Hungary. He likes to come from further back and run on to the ball. I'm not sure why we need a holding midfielder. If Frank Lampard goes forward, then surely Gerrard can drop back, or vice versa?
As the Greeks demonstrated in the last European Championship, you don't necessarily need brilliant players to win a major tournament. Greece won it because they were disciplined and had a good coach.
I'm not convinced that Eriksson can do the same. My mind always goes back to the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, when David Beckham ran over to the touchline and put his foot on the ball and tried to let it run out of play. Brazil took possession. When they went through and scored their equaliser there was a shot of Eriksson and his assistant, Steve McClaren, and their faces were completely blank. Three rows behind was Dave Sexton, one of the best coaches we've ever had - with no input. And we had no answer.
Neither did I like Eriksson's decision not to intervene in Istanbul when the players voted whether or not they were going to play for their country over the Rio Ferdinand dope-test affair. That's why I'd like to have seen Sam Allardyce as Eriksson's successor. He knows the game very well - and he wouldn't have stood any nonsense.
Elements of England's defence concern me. No doubt Gary Neville will start, but Jamie Carragher, for me, is the better defender. Not much gets past him. Ferdinand's display against Uruguay in the friendly was very poor indeed and, while John Terry's done well this season, he doesn't like people running at him, one on one, in the area.
On the positive side, I rate the Tottenham boy Aaron Lennon highly, although he'll find it tough to oust Beckham. The captain, who had his best game for a long time against Hungary, is a great crosser of the ball, but this young boy can do it on the run, at pace. He crosses beautifully into the near post.
That decision makes sense. Theo Walcott's inclusion does not. They say Eriksson's not a gambler; yet he takes a 17-year-old who he'd never seen play until last week. That's the greatest gamble I've ever heard of. That said, I hope the kid gets on and scores three goals. He looks a wonderful talent in the making. But it's a bit cruel to place so much expectation on him.
People try to convince me that England have a happy knack of doing well under Eriksson in competitive games. Up to a point that's correct. But I'd just like us to win something. I fear that once again England will fall short. The semi-finals may be the best we can hope for.
George Cohen was talking to Nick TownsendReuse content