Down the years you learn never to underestimate England’s ability to dash the hopes and expectations of the nation in major tournaments – especially when they are being talked up once again.
As Euro 2016 begins, this current side are being hailed as up there with the best.
Yet it is hard to see them giving the likes of Spain, France, Germany or Belgium much of a game.
Let’s be really harsh for a second.
Since bursting onto the scene all those years back captain Wayne Rooney has been poor on the big stage.
Jack Wilshere, the man who supposedly will make everything tick, has been injured virtually all season and it is doubtful that he is yet fully recovered. You should never take players who are not 100 per cent fit and England have learned that to their cost over and over again and over and over again fall into the same trap.
Jamie Vardy has had one good Premier League season and is raw at international level.
Centre backs Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling will give goals away when under examination from the very best forwards.
England go into the competition not knowing their best side – how do you accommodate Harry Kane, Vardy, Dele Alli and Rooney without ending up with square pegs in round holes?
Yet people forget that when England won the World Cup 50 years ago Sir Alf Ramsey seemed not to know his best side either.
He started out playing wingers but gave up on the idea. He began with Jimmy Greaves, one of our greatest ever goal scorers, but switched to Sir Geoff Hurst.
Of course Sir Alf had world class talent in Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Gordon Banks – not a single member of the current crop are in that class.
Yet, while Moore loved a challenge, he was want at league level to sometimes over-play on the ball just like John Stones is accused of today.
As to young players, Sir Alf threw in Alan Ball and he was the best player in the final.
So, despite Alan Hansen’s famous quip that you never win anything with kids, what about giving Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford and Ross Barkley their head even if they blow hot and cold.
And most certainly put Stones on the park – you should never waste talent like his.
So how are we going to fair?
For a start we have to come out of a group featuring Russia, Wales and Slovakia.
Martin Keown’s verdict in the Daily Mail was thus:
“It seems like you’ve only got to win one group game and you’re into the knockout rounds, so if you win your first match you’re flying. But I know from experience that’s not easy — we drew our first two games at Euro ’92 against Denmark and France — and I wouldn’t be surprised if England did the same here.
“If that happens, the third match becomes massive, and England — in theory — play the weakest team last in Slovakia. They have just beaten Germany 3-1 though, so who knows what might happen?
“That said, I expect England to top the group, see off a third-placed team with relative ease in the round of 16 and probably end up facing Italy or Portugal in the quarter-finals. These ties are winnable but could go either way, and I think a probable semi-final against Spain would be England’s limit in this tournament.”
For me, no-one wants to lose their first game so I suspect a dreary 0-0 against the Russians. We should beat Wales but if Bale and Ramsey are on form we could be in trouble. That will be a tremendously difficult game. Again, we should beat Slovakia but they too present real dangers.
I think an appearance in the quarter finals is likely to be absolute tops for England.
Who then will stand out?
I think Kane will get goals particularly against the lesser lights – he has a touch of the Sir Geoff Hurst about him.
Joe Hart is an excellent goalkeeper who will do England proud if not let down by his defence.
Full backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker have the temperament to do well.
And then you have to hope that Wilshere, Alli and Barkley can take that next step and achieve a measure of greatness which eluded Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard when up against the international elite.
All too often in such rarefied atmospheres very good league players are just making up numbers at world and European level.
That is the benchmark for England.
My heart is with them; my head expects the usual disappointment.
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