Sport Soccer

Friday 19 January 2018

Favourable group can light the fuse for English hopes

I don't usually watch European Championship or World Cup draws, but after seeing the excellent Cossack dancing before the Euro 2012 draw, I'm rather glad I switched on the TV on Friday. As the draw was made -- which didn't turn out too badly for England, I thought -- the usual flurry of texts circulated among the players in and around the national team.

The tournament is still a long way off, of course, and any serious thoughts on how to beat the opposition will only be given due attention once the club season is out of the way, but the banter tends to start immediately. With France in England's group -- and a French player in practically every Premier League side these days -- there's plenty of competitive talk to be getting on with.

Before the 2010 World Cup, Algeria were drawn in England's group and the two Algerian players in my then team, Portsmouth -- Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda -- would not give me a moment's peace. It went on for weeks, if not months, about how they were going to humiliate England in South Africa. I don't know what I would have done if one of them had scored in that match, although I was, of course, disappointed that we could not manage better than a draw against them.

How will England's players react to this latest draw? Certainly not in the way that the media tends to react to these things. After the 2010 World Cup draw, the Sun ran the headline 'EASY', an acronym of our group -- England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks. That's the press for you, everything is polarised. It's either an easy group that you should sleepwalk through or the dreaded 'group of death'. The players are keen to ignore that kind of talk.

The subject of England's base in Krakow has inevitably come up, with all three group games being played in Ukraine, but the city was chosen by Fabio Capello and the FA for a reason.

After being stuck out in the middle of nowhere during the last World Cup -- albeit with incredible facilities -- they know when the view out of your bedroom window is a row of football pitches, cabin fever can quickly set in and the players can become a bit stir crazy. Next summer the team will be in the middle of a vibrant and beautiful city, surrounded by fans and close to their families. Clearly the FA have learned from past experiences and chosen this way forward.

The fans make a huge difference with their presence. They remind you what the tournament is all about and inspire you with their dedication. On a rare foray out in Cape Town last year, before the second group game, I remember meeting a group of four rather large blokes who had squeezed into a tiny Fiat and driven all the way from Rustenburg to the Cape just to follow England. Those kind of stories put everything into perspective.

The Krakow base reminds me of our time in Germany during the 2006 World Cup, where we were often right in the middle of major cities, mingling with the fans and soaking up the atmosphere -- although there are the odd times you hear them singing at 4am in the streets outside and you want to shout: "Keep it down, we've got a match tomorrow!"

Aside from the question of who England will be playing at Euro 2012, I've been wondering how the tournament might be affected by the current European financial crisis.

True, football tends to exist in a financial bubble that seems impenetrable, even by worldwide economic trends, but for a major tournament even football relies on the presence of paying spectators.

How many supporters -- local and international -- will actually be able to afford to buy tickets for the games, let alone for travel and accommodation? And what sort of impact will that have on the tournament?

The football aside, Poland and Ukraine certainly look worth the trip. In the montage shown alongside the draw, there were some lovely places and I would genuinely be very interested in going out there and watching the games just as a fan.

The element of Friday's show that really stood out for me, though -- Cossack dancing aside -- was when 11 players walked out on to the stage, from different generations, all of whom had won the European Championship in their careers.

It's always been a huge deal to me to play for England, but to have played for your country and actually won something -- that's a completely different ball game.

So if the tabloid newspapers come up with a headline this time around perhaps it will be FUSE: an acronym that sums up the hope that England's European Championship campaign gets off to a bang, with Group D the fuse to light it. Observer

Sunday Indo Sport

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