Unbeaten England angling to overcome Euro woe, how far can the Three Lions go?
As always, pundits like to cast an eye over the past to predict what may come next. With Euro 2016 just up ahead, and automatic qualifying wrapped up, there has been much said about England’s hopes already.
Of course, having never laid their hands upon the European Championship trophy, history does not favour the Three Lions 11/1 chances with Coral to triumph in France, but what about the present?
Roy Hodsgon’s Euro hopers were the first team aside from hosts Les Bleus, gifted a spot, to officially make the finals, with not only an unbeaten record throughout the campaign, but a tremendous 10 wins from 10.
Any nation, including current crown claimants Spain and World Cup winners Germany, would be proud of those stats. Yet, a glance through the archives indicates such a perfect path to the competition proper is a poor omen. Just one side, La Roja themselves back in 2012, have gone on to be triumphant following a hundred per cent record in qualifying, with many others falling at the initial group hurdle.
As for the Three Lions’ past impeccable campaigns, this is the first time the regular also-ran nation has won all of their matches on the road to the finals, which still undeniably bodes well despite previous jinxes.
Yet, when the English have gone undefeated in qualifying before on five occasions, three group stage failures have followed, with two quarter-final appearances the best results.
So, how far can the Three Lions go this time? And can they overcome this perceived perfect qualifying curse?
With World Cup 2018 failure still relatively fresh in the minds of fans, as well as England’s long-held ability to promise much more than finally delivered, punters may pounce on odds of 9/2 for Hodgson to bow out at the group stage for the second time in three major tournaments. Four pool dismissals from eight European Championship attempts illustrates just how early England can crash and burn.
Though, despite the negativity surrounding the British Isles boys’ tendency to balk in the big games, there has also often been large slices of bad luck, with strikes ruled offside and the lottery of spot-kicks frequently featuring in the Three Lions’ torturous tournament exits.
Much depends on the draw, another case of roulette, though upcoming friendly fixtures against France, Germany and Spain should be a much fairer yardstick with which to measure England’s true progress since Brazil.
On the face of it, an exceptional eight clean sheets in qualifying is an excellent indicator that England will be tough to break down, with Hodgson already hinting at employing at counter-attacking approach across the Channel.
This should suit personnel such as Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Theo Walcott and co, who are all quick on the break, giving their side a 9/4 shot of at least equalling their previous quarter-final finish, where they have ended on both of their last two Euro tournament appearances.
It was England’s inability to prise open Italy, or match the domination of Andrea Pirlo in midfield, which saw them dumped out of Poland and Ukraine. The Three Lion’s still boast no playmaker of Pirlo’s calibre but, with hitman Harry Kane added to the armory and Walcott on a rampant run, this increased goal threat sees the side priced at 5/1 to reach the semi-finals for the third time.
A centre back collection including the imposing Chris Smalling could prove the difference between the fine margins of defeat but, with penalty shoot-out woe the reason for their past two Euro exits, composure up front could truly be the key.
All-time top England scorer and skipper Wayne Rooney will need to lead from the front then, and odds of 10/1 for England to be runner-up, or 11/1 to be victors say he will. Yet, despite recent record breaking, Rooney’s poor club form suggests the Three Lions will once again fall short of the desired quality to rule the continent.
Betting tip: England at 9/4 for a third quarter-final finish is most tempting