Road to redemption starts here for England
Battered reputations and bruised egos can at least begin to recover this week when England get their Euro 2012 qualification campaign underway.
The side remains under a dark cloud, weighed down by their dismal failure in South Africa and no doubt the memories of how the last European Championship campaign finished.
Manager Fabio Capello understandably bears the majority of the pressure heaped on the side going into the double header against Bulgaria and Switzerland. The experienced Italian was heavily criticised for his authoritarian and rigid approach in South Africa which culminated in a 4-1 hammering by Germany. The FA have since backed their man, but lingering doubts about whether that was down to the potentially high cost of sacking him remain.
I think he deserves the chance to dig England out of this hole. His track record speaks for itself and he is perhaps a victim of raised expectations. Just as before every major tournament the players and Capello were put on a pedestal they perhaps never deserved to be on and were ruthlessly knocked off when they failed to meet those expectations. The European Championship betting suggests England should qualify with ease, but they have a long way to go if they are to make an impact in the finals of the tournament.
The lack of new faces will also put many people off tuning in on Friday, with some supporters feeling South Africa was one let down too many by this so-called golden generation. Still, in Theo Walcott and James Milner we at least have two young stars in great form and the way Steven Gerrard is talking we should see some inspiration from him and the woefully out of form Wayne Rooney.
A 2-1 friendly win against Hungary last month kept the critics at arm’s length, but the narrow win was a bare minimum, with the crowd reaction when Hungary went ahead a stark warning to the players going into the Bulgaria match. There they face a similar no win situation – three points are expected and given what England fans endured in South Africa some goals would go down well too. England are most people’s Euro 2012 tips to top the group, but they will need to put in some convincing performances in the coming months.
A defeat though and the FA, with former England target Martin O’Neill now a free agent, could well double check the cost of Capello’s severance package.