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Euro 2012 preview: England

England expects? Not after preparation ravaged by managerial change, off-field arguments and half a dozen injuries, says James Maw

Missing in action: Half of England's team has been ruled out

There are always plenty of âÂÂifs', âÂÂbuts' and âÂÂmaybes' when it comes to England at a major tournament; Euro 2012, though, will take that to a whole new level.

It says a lot about the recent upheaval surrounding the Three Lions that star man Wayne RooneyâÂÂs suspension for the first two matches of the competition is almost seen now as the least of their worries. Since that ban was confirmed by UEFA in December, England have also had to find a new captain and manager, while several key players have been forced to miss the competition thanks to various injuries and 'footballing reasons'.

The disruptions to their preparations for this summerâÂÂs tournament, combined with a poor showing at the 2010 World Cup, have left even the usually impatient English tabloid press almost willing to write off Euro 2012 as a learning experience for the younger players: only Germany go into the competition with a younger squad.

That would not be music to the ears of EnglandâÂÂs âÂÂgolden generationâÂÂ, with the tournament set to be a last international hurrah for Ashley Cole (31 years old), Steven Gerrard (32) and the now armband-less John Terry (31), whose injured sidekick Frank Lampard (33) may have already played his last international.

Lampard's late injury was one of many to weaken the squad: fellow midfielders Gareth Barry and Jack Wilshere had already been ruled out, along with defenders Kyle Walker, Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill. Up front, with Rooney missing until the Ukraine game and Darren Bent failing to recover from an ankle ligament injury, the forward line will need a major, if temporary, overhaul.

This will likely see Ashley Young playing behind either Andy Carroll or Danny Welbeck â 23 and 21 respectively, with nine caps and two goals between them. This highlights EnglandâÂÂs lack of a recognised international goalscorer, bar the Manchester United star: besides his 28 goals, Gerrard's 19 and Jermain Defoe's 15, the squad has only scored 18 international goals in total, six each from Terry and Ashley Young.

One problem position England have filled is in central midfield, where they've finally found a replacement for the perennially banjaxed Owen Hargreaves, albeit most likely only a short-term one, in Scott Parker. The Spurs enforcer, also 31, has been a latecomer to the international scene, having won only three senior caps before his 30th birthday. But the composure, intelligence and maturity in his performances have seen him quickly become one of the first names on the team sheet. ItâÂÂs just a shame that he won't be joined in the middle by the injured Jack Wilshere. Or Frank Lampard. Or Gareth Barry. Or Michael Carrick.

In goal, Joe Hart looks likely to make the position his own for the next decade. The Manchester City stopper is a steadier presence than recent incumbents of the No.1 jersey, such as David James and Robert Green. This is HartâÂÂs first major finals as first-choice keeper, so it will be the biggest test of his character yet, but having shown his nerve during the tense final weeks of the Premier League title race, he should be nothing if not confident.

Above all else, for England to make a splash in Poland and Ukraine theyâÂÂll need to be well drilled tactically and defensively sound. Roy Hodgson may at first have seemed something of a surprise choice as Fabio Capello's replacement, but his track record suggests he could very well be the right man for the task.

Flying solo? Hodgson sets off for the east

Lesson from qualifying
Be flexible. It may be a cracking name for a magazine, but England have benefited from finally learning that 4-4-2 isnâÂÂt the only option. With his hand possibly forced by the growing injury list, Hodgson has used his two friendly matches (both won 1-0) to switch from Fabio Capello's 4-2-3-1 to a slightly more pragmatic 4-4-1-1 system. How Hodgson and England react to going a goal behind is likely to determine exactly how they fare this summer, and that is a test Hodgson has yet to face since his appointment.

Without calm passing players such as Jack Wilshere (injured) and Michael Carrick (frozen out â voluntarily or otherwise), England are unlikely to be able to compete with the likes of Spain when it comes to a short passing game. But what they do possess is a wealth of athletic, versatile and technically gifted forward players in Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Getting the ball forward quickly may be EnglandâÂÂs best chance of creating openings, and until Rooney returns theyâÂÂll need to do that as often as possible.

While in previous tournaments England have had a settled back four, there has been plenty of chopping and changing over the course of this campaign, with left-back Ashley Cole the only shoo-in. At centre-back, most of the usual suspects have struggling for fitness and/or consistency over the last 12 months, with Joleon Lescott the one player to have enjoyed a full and consistent season. The Manchester City defender could still miss out if Hodgson opts to partner Terry â who prefers to play as the left-sided centre back â with Phil Jagielka, who generally plays on the right. With little time to bed in a unit, such selection headaches at the back could prove particularly unwelcome.

Did you know�
Workers slacking off to watch the 2010 World Cup cost the UK economy over ã4.9 billion, according to estimates made by sales data firm InsideView. Just think how high that figure could get if England reach the final here...

Expert's view
Guy Mowbray, BBC commentator
âÂÂAt least this time England wonâÂÂt go into a major tournament carrying the weight of the nationâÂÂs expectation â because quite frankly there isnâÂÂt any. Fabio CapelloâÂÂs sudden exit might have pleased many, but itâÂÂs left a gaping hole in terms of preparation that ought to rule England out of being genuine contenders. We should be pleased just to get out of the group this time, and then see what happens. On an optimistic note, itâÂÂs a younger squad largely free of the scars of previous failures, and there might be a longer-term benefit from the experience.â  

Quarter-finals would be considered success.

Huyton expectations: the two Scousers have scored 47 of this squad's 80 goals

Key player
Wayne Rooney
Yes, he will miss the first two games, but England will need their attacking talisman if they are to progress to the latter stages. Rooney is fit and firing for Manchester United, and has far more experience than any of EnglandâÂÂs other options (Welbeck and Carroll have yet to score a competitive goal for their country). A repeat of Euro 2004, when he scored four, could make all the difference to the Three Lionsâ hopes.

The manager
Roy Hodgson
It's fair to say the press pack were caught out by the FA's naming of Hodgson as the new England manager in May. Tottenham's Harry Redknapp was generally considered to be nailed-on for the gig, but perhaps his side's slump over the second half of the season worked against him. Hodgson has performed well with unfancied Premier League sides Fulham and West Brom in recent seasons â guiding the Cottagers to the Europa League final and West Brom to their highest league finish in over 30 years. His eye for tactical detail and calm demeanour will serve this group of players better than Redknapp's cockney wideboy-isms and tactical naivety.

How they play
Fabio Capello was lambasted for using a rigid 4-4-2 formation at the World Cup, but he opted for a more fluid 4-2-3-1 in several of EnglandâÂÂs qualifying matches, with the extra man in the middle helping the team see more of the ball.

Hodgson has tweaked this into a 4-4-1-1, with Manchester United's Ashley Young supporting the main striker. This has led to friendly victories over Norway and Denmark, and although the defence has looked solid, with Parker shielding the back four, retaining possession once again started to look a challenge. Hodgson also faces choices out wide, between the diligent but hardly spectacular Stewart Downing and James Milner or the pacier but less defensive Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Euro record
1960 DNE
1964 DNQ
1968 Semi-finals
1972 DNQ
1976 DNQ
1980 First round
1984 DNQ
1988 First round
1992 First round
1996 Semi-finals
2000 First round
2004 Quarter-finals
2008 DNQ

Group fixtures
June 11, France (Donetsk, 5pm)
June 15, Sweden (Kiev, 5pm)
June 18, Ukraine (Donetsk, 7.45pm)

England are 9/1 to win Euro 2012, with Wayne Rooney 40/1 to finish as tournament top scorer, despite missing the first two games.
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More details

Grp A:
Poland ⢠Russia ⢠Greece ⢠Czech Republic
Grp B:
Netherlands ⢠Germany ⢠Portugal ⢠Denmark
Grp C:
Spain ⢠Italy ⢠Croatia ⢠Republic of Ireland
Grp D:
Ukraine ⢠England ⢠France ⢠Sweden

...and there's more: try Back of the Net's satirical previews