Two years after England failed to make it out of the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, our football team is back again for the 2016 UEFA European Championship in France!
My memories of previous European Championships are not as strong as for the World Cup, possibly because it’s a tournament on a smaller scale, or possibly because England’s record is even more lacklustre than for the World Cup: we’ve never reached a Euro final. In 2004, I remember attending a university open event with my parents and going into a Greek restaurant when the France-Greece match was on: four Greek men were enthusiastically crowded around the TV, and we frequently heard their cheers from our table upstairs. Greece won that match, and eventually, the whole tournament. Then in 2008, there was the agony of whether England were going to qualify for the Euros at all, as they were making it very difficult for themselves. I watched every step carefully, calculating what was necessary to manage it – but as I watched Croatia beat us 3-2 in the final game, I allowed myself to sink into the comforting embrace of apathy, with a hint of disgust. Although we did qualify in 2012 under our ongoing manager Roy Hodgson, both the team and the entertainment value of their football were nothing special, and a penalty shootout loss to Italy in the quarter finals was about as much as we deserved.
As for the current team, you can just never know how what’s going to happen on the day. I thought we played well in our first two group games at the last World Cup, yet we still lost. Scoring goals isn’t a problem – we have an excellent attack force – but results indicate that our defence really needs work. England have the potential to do well, but it’s not often that they ever actually realise that potential.
This European Championship is a bit more complicated than previous ones: it has 24 teams instead of 16, and an extra knockout round which will feature the winners and runners up from each group, and the four best third placers. So England’s chances of reaching the second round are as good as they’re ever going to be – not to mention, along for the ride are our neighbours Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland! (The Scottish, meanwhile, can stay at home and cry into their beer.) I’m also looking forward to seeing how Iceland, the smallest country ever to qualify for the Euros, perform; and Belgium look promising too.
Having fed my casual guesses into the Sky Sports Predictor, here are my predictions for how the groups will finish up, and the knockout rounds will proceed.
A: France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania
B: England, Wales, Russia, Slovakia
C: Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Northern Ireland
D: Spain, Turkey, Croatia, Czech Republic
E: Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Ireland
F: Iceland, Portugal, Austria, Hungary
Switzerland vs Poland = Switzerland
Spain vs Austria = Spain
England vs Croatia = England
Iceland vs Italy = Italy
Germany vs Romania = Germany
Belgium vs Turkey = Belgium
France vs Ukraine = France
Wales vs Portugal = Portugal
Switzerland vs Spain = Spain
England vs Italy = England
Germany vs Belgium = Germany
France vs Portugal = France
Spain vs England = Spain
Germany vs France = France
Spain vs France = France!
I’m probably being overly optimistic about England, but I can’t help but retain a little patriotism.