by Tom

The hysteria has emerged from all corners since Paolo Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland AFC Head Coach. The twitter hand-wringers have led the way, with the media following in behind. Much of it has derived from those of a political bent, with only a passing interest in football.

Very little in life is as black and white as some would like. As with a lot of people who are not professional politicians, Paolo Di Canio’s politics shift and merge across a variety of points of the political spectrum. Very few of his critics will have read the most detailed English language Paolo Di Canio interview ( ), nor will many have read his critically-acclaimed autobiography (ghosted by Gabriele Marcotti), and even fewer (certainly amongst the post-Sunderland debate) have read his Italian newspaper columns. So very few have a genuine understanding of Di Canio’s political views and even if you had read all of the above, I’m sure you still wouldn’t have huge enlightenment on the subject. All of the above primarily focused on football, and not politics, as one would expect. However, everyone seems to have read the provocative Di Canio piece, courtesy of the Telegraph, with it‘s out-of-context quotes ( ). I don’t know the detail on Paolo Di Canio’s political views, it seems that nobody truly does. Di Canio’s political views appear to be a mish-mash of anti-racism, Samurai honour, and some of that hard to define fascism.  From what is in the public domain, it is very difficult to pigeonhole Di Canio’s political views and indeed difficult to think of any non-politician whose political views you could easily, and accurately, pigeonhole.

Everybody hence perhaps needs to take a step back and accept that we cannot simply put Paolo Di Canio into one political box and castigate him forever more for those views. We may have to accept that Paolo Di Canio will never step out and give a full breakdown of all his political views in manifesto form. There is no genuine reason for Di Canio to give such detailed clarification of his political views, Di Canio is not standing for political office, Di Canio is a football coach.

Politics and football very rarely mix in England. There does not appear to be any unequivocal case for that principle to alter on the subject of Di Canio.

By Tom,




INS: Shinji Kagawa (£12m, Borussia Dortmund), Nick Powell (£4m, Crewe), Robin van Persie (£24m, Arsenal), Alex Buttner (£3.9million, Vitesse Arnhem).

OUTS: Michael Owen (released), Oliver Norwood (undisclosed, Huddersfield), Matty James, Ritchie De Laet (both undisclosed to Leicester), Tomasz Kuszczak (free, Brighton), Fabio (loan, QPR). Ji-Sung Park (£2m, QPR), John Cofie (loan, Sheffield United), Ben Amos (loan, Hull), Reece Brown (loan, Coventry), Dimitar Berbatov (£4m, Fulham).

Van Persie grabs all the headlines for United. A coup few expected at the start of the summer, snaffled from under City’s noses. Van Persie may come with a hefty price tag for a man of his age with his injury record, but if he delivers at the rate he did for Arsenal in the past two seasons, then Ferguson will be fully vindicated.

Kagawa is the footballing hipster’s choice of Premier League transfer of the season. A player with intricate link play and phenomenal numbers for Borussia Dortmund in assists and goals. @miketweetgood expounds here on why it is moronic to view Kagawa as primarily a marketing ploy .

Büttner and Powell will provide added potential and numbers. Evra clearly needs a rival (especially with Fabio out on loan), Büttner seems to divide Dutch opinion on whether he will be a feasible rival to that slot.

It’s evident that Ferguson has also wanted to strip out some of the high-earning squad players, so Berbatov, Owen, Park, and Kuszczak all depart. Park was over-the-hill after great service, and Berbatov sadly never quite fitted (though was glorious on those days when he did).

Central midfield continues to be a resolute transfer blindspot for Ferguson. He seems determined to make Andesron work, and allow Cleverley the space to flourish.

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The current set-up in Scottish football is moronic. For those who may be hazy on the details:
* Top division is SPL. 12 teams. 1 team is relegated.
* SFL run the next three divisions, each of 10 teams.
* One team promoted from Division One.
*  One team relegated from Division One.
* Ninth team in Division One plays a playoff with 2nd, 3rd, 4th in Division Two.
* Same system operates between Divisions Two and Three.
* There is no relegation from Division Three.
* In each division teams play one another four times.
* And there’s the super crazy split at the three quarters point of the SPL season to dictate who your last set of games is against. After 33 games, the division is split into two halves. The teams then just play once more against the teams in their half. And the teams are fixed in their half, so the 7th place team usually finishes with more points than the 6th place team. [THIS IS NOT A JOKE. THIS IS THE GENUINE STRUCTURE OF LEAGUE FOOTBALL].

All of the above makes my head hurt with its stupidity. Every season is like groundhog day with minimal turnover in teams, and multiple meetings against one another. And the very bottom end is a closed shop.

Regardless of the Rangers issue, the entire Scottish football system needs to be entirely revamped. And a solution should be found for that, over and above any Rangers issues.

There are 42 teams across the SPL and SFL. There are only just over 20 proper-sized football clubs in Scotland (clubs with crowds of 1000 or more). The rest are amateur-sized munchkins.

They need to stop the playing one another four times per season. They need to become a real league, a sensible amount of proper-sized teams playing one another twice per season.

All the leagues need to be run by one body. A new body with all new staff. Purge the morons of the SPL. And draw up a whole new set or rules and league regulations. Particularly with clear rules on punishments for financially mismanaged teams, administrations, CVAs, dual contracts, and liquidations. And paying keen attention to rules around suspensions and match officials’ working conditions and neutrality.
And perhaps also even do something similar with the personnel, structure, rules and regulations of the SFA. Make the new ruling bodies genuinely independent and non-partisan. Rid the league’s ruling body and the SFA of any perceived Old Firm bias of one direction or other.

The structure of the leagues is the most important part. It is difficult to get right though with the limited number of proper size teams. This is how I feel it should be laid out, with proper size divisions and sporting integrity:

* One top national division of 18 teams. With two teams relegated per season.

* Then a second national division of 18 teams. The top team promoted. And then 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th have full playoffs to decide promotion of one to the top division.
And two teams are relegated from the second national division.

Then a regionalised pyramid structure of amateur or semi-professional clubs below all of that.

The only flaw in that is a weak 2nd division, but that is pretty unavoidable. And you would hope that all the aforementioned improvements to Scottish football would lead to an improvement in the attendances, finances and playing quality of the likes of Ayr, Berwick, etc.

For me the restructuring should be entirely regardless of the Rangers situation, but with the above scenario I would place Rangers in Division Two with a substantial points penalty for at least one season. But this isn’t about Rangers.

Scottish football needs root and branch reform, a blank piece of paper and an entirely new league structure. And it needs to be created with sporting integrity, regardless of the Rangers issue, and without bullying or media-grandstanding.

The SPL and SFL have emailed the SFL clubs with their own pair of proposals, but they both sound regressive and bad for the game

The SFL clubs seem in no mood to be railroaded by the authorities, so we’ll see how all this mania pans out.

Turbulent times for Scottish football.

by @tom7p

Follow us on twitter @feetballsblog

The strangest of things has broken out on a rooftop in Warsaw…… passionate punditry! A rarity on British footballing tv, particularly at the mutual back-slapping fests that tournament football punditry can so often be. Roy Keane and Jamie Carragher actually seem to care about and genuinely enjoy the football on show in Poland and Ukraine past week! They are providing a hugely refreshing contrast with the bland ill-informed forced-mateyness of the BBC’s coverage.

Roy Keane’s glowering aggression seems to have lifted a little for this tournament (maybe it’s the Polish sunshine) to allow a slightly more relaxed and carefree approach to his opinion-gabbling, though with the unmistakeable undercurrent of possible violence toward Chiles. Jamie Carragher has had brief glimpses of punditing before, never to any great acclaim, too often it has been incomprehensible / bland / Liverpool-biased. This week Carragher is speaking real sense and defying the conventions of the careful pundit by actually saying what he thinks (and maybe slowing his Mersey accent ever so slightly).

It’s wonderful to see that when a team is performing badly they get angry and frustrated, and then launch into tirades on what the team or manager needs to do to fix it. The two bounce off one another with a raft of solutions and tweaks that would improve the performance of a team or a player. It puts to shame the unending lethargy and apathy of the BBC pundit panel, who always seem to want a game to end before it’s even started.

Adrian Chiles has also hence been forced to visibly up his game. Carragher often doesn’t quite “get” the game of punditry, to get an answer from him you need to ask him a straight question. On the few occasions Chiles has tried to pass a puffy pleasantry in his direction in the assumption that he’ll get some bland soccer chat back, Carragher challenges and asks Chiles to pin down what his actual question is. This has led to Chiles consciously thinking about questions and discussions topics, looking for tangible points of tactics and assessment, rather than just ‘banter’. A refreshing development and an offshoot of Keane and Carragher’s passion.

Sometimes it’s such thickly-accented animated invective that you almost think they might be swearing. Keane’s “football” can often sound dangerously close to “fuck all”. It’s a world away from the banality of Lineker and Hansen, and puts to shame the bare-faced idiocy of Savage and Quinn.

Quite often a game will get to half time and you’ll be able to see Keane and Carragher have been chomping at the bit with a welter of detailed subjects of analysis they want to get through. A world away from Lee Dixon and Alan Shearer making ‘jokes’ about not knowing any of the players’ names, or some irrelevant predictions Hansen made two weeks ago.

It’s pleasing to see that Chiles and ITV are doing nothing to rein in Keane and Carragher’s forthright opinions and passion. They are making a fitting companion to Gary Neville’s great punditry on Sky throughout the season.

The punditry bar has been raised.

By @Tom7p

Follow us on twitter, @feetballsblog

Group A.

Russia. Swashbuckling forward play orchestrated by the revitalised Arshavin.

Czech Republic. Cut to ribbons defensively, disjointed in attack.

Poland. The Dortmund route works. The Szczesny way failed.

Greece. Salpingidis full of life. The rock solid defence has abandoned them.

Group B.

Denmark. Heroic defensive work from Kjaer and Agger leave Denmark poised for possible progression.

Netherlands. Sneijder pings it around gorgeously. The collective pressure on the forwards tells.

Germany. Mertesacker ditched, Hummels and Boateng star in defence. Gomez misses many, but strikes at last. Impressive.

Portugal. Postiga not as bad as usual, but lack of link between defence and attack is their undoing.

Group C.

Spain. The strikerless art project fails. Need to find a cutting edge. Flaws at full back are a danger.

Republic Of Ireland. Undone by uncharacteristic errors. Ward a liability. Keane, Duff, McGeady still threaten.

Croatia. Corluka rocky at the back. Modric pulled the strings. Mandzukic and Jelavic supreme.

Italy. De Rossi perfectly marshalled Prandelli’s bold step into 3-5-2. Tough calls to be made in attack. It might just work.

Group D.

France. Sluggish defence look a liability. Nasri orchestrated fine attacking link-up. Will need to get Benzema more involved.

England. Compact defence worked. Parker and Gerrard drifted too deep in caution. Will need to find a plan for when Young is shackled.

Sweden. Continually overrun by speedy Ukrainian attacks. Zlatan impressive. Often struggled for the final ball.

Ukraine. Rampant issues at the back, especially Pyatov in goal. Konoplyanka provided drive. Shevchenko showed movement and clinical finishing.

By @tom7p

Follow us on twitter, @Feetballsblog

Group A.

Took the Czechs apart in swashbuckling style. Kerzhakov missed a record-breaking hatful, but Dzagoev picked off his chances. Arshavin pulled the strings to great effect and Pavlyuchenko came off the bench clinically, finding the form that has eluded the mercurial ruskies in North London. They did though have spells of poor ball retention, allowing the Czechs chances. Overall though, Russia look incredibly strong and sudden semi final contenders.

Czech Republic
Royally exposed defensively by the Russians, particularly at left back. Had spells of good possession but often failed to find a good quality link between defensive midfield and Baros. Expect the Poles to exploit that defensive weakness on the left flank. Gebre-Selassie (not the Marathon runner) impressed at right back, particularly going forward. Should struggle to get out of the group though.

Started brilliantly against Greece. Pisczek and Blaszczykowski combined to superb effect down the right flank, carving out numerous gilt-edged chances for their Dortmund colleague Lewandowski. However fell apart to dramatic effect in the second half. Poor protection from midfield, defensive confusion and chaotic goalkeeping let Greece snatch a well-earned draw. Tyton did very well in goal after his napalm baptism and should be a solid base for the Russia fixture.

An abysmal first half, taken apart in fairly straight lines by Poland. Samaras toiled and ran to good effect, but Salpingidis was their star of the show. Salpingidis made fantastic, incisive forward runs. Completely overshadowing the underwhelming Ninis in the process. The Czech game will be key for them, impossible to see such a limited team getting anything against the slick Russians.

Group B.

A surprise victory against the Netherlands. Conceded 28 shots, but many were from wide or from distance. Kjaer and Agger defended fantastically well, always applying pressure to Van Persie. Eriksen’s performance was fairly anonymous, roaming around the pitch, but never getting a huge amount of the ball. Quite lucky to nab their victory, but a fantastic platform to get out of the group with.

Dominated the game, peppering Andersen’s goal. Van Persie had eight attempts and failed to even truly look like scoring once. The Dutch concerns of the pressure getting to him rang visibly true. The uncertainties on Dutch forward selection which led to that pressure will almost certainly continue. The inexperienced defence performed more soundly than expected, and Sneijder was glorious in midfield, but the Dutch will have to beat their ultimate enemy, Germany, to have any real chance of progress.

In a word, impressive. Mertesacker wisely cast aside after a woeful run of performances. Hummels steps in as the defensive fulcrum and performs to his very best Dortmund standard. The sometimes flaky Boateng defended to near perfection against Ronaldo. The only disappointments will be the multiple missed chances from Gomez, and Podolski’s anonymous performance. With so much competition for places, Podolski will need to raise his game quick (Götze waits in the wings). Looked real contendors for the trophy.

A very limited set-up, as advertised. Ronaldo and Nani performed ably, and Postiga exceeded expectations, but there was the predictable lack of link between defensive midfield and the forward line. Moutinho and Veloso looked great, but expect to see Portugal gambling on a more attacking option than Meireles.

Group C.

Collapsed into self-parody with their striker-less formation. For the bulk of the game, it didn’t really work. Their passing hummed along as ever, but very few of those cut through into the final third. For the bulk of the game they were outsmarted by Prandelli. When Fabregas was pushed further forward it started to work, and hence their goal resulted, but it only occurred when forced. The introduction of Torres worked even better, if only he had the balls to finish. The cries for Llorente will grow louder. Their double defensive midfielders didn’t actually protect the back line all that well, posing a tactical challenge for Del Bosque. The full backs were exposed defensively a number of times, particularly Arbeloa. This will be no cake walk for the Spaniards.

Republic Of Ireland
Way below their usual high standard defensively, but maybe created more going forward than expected. A number of defensive errors (particularly by Ward and Given) were ably-exposed by Croatia. Trapattoni will do everything he can to eradicate those defensive errors, dropping Ward might be a start. Andrews got forward far more than expected. A link from midfield to attack is missing, but there is no real option in this squad to fix that. McGeady and Duff performed well, and will surely keep McClean at bay. Walters did far more from the bench than the lumbering Doyle did, and will be a strong contendor to nab his spot. The dream isn’t over for Ireland yet, but it certainly got off to a very bad start.

Clinical and adventurous. Modric linked play wonderfully well, with Jelavic and Mandzukic battering the Irish defence. Nobody expected Croatia to have such creativity and fun. The defence was not overly-tested, though Corluka did still find a few chances to look shaky. The verve and cutting-edge they showed could sneak a result for them against Italy or Spain.

A late tacitcal switch after experimentation in friendlies took them to the 3-5-2 utilised so effectively by the Serie A champions that make up eight of their squad. For a tactic they had not used a huge amount, it worked remarkably well. De Rossi performed superbly as a loose third centre back (bar one false offside glitch), providing deadly tackles and great linking, passing play. The wing backs performed as genuine wing backs and continually got forward to great effect, though Maggio was caught out too far forward by Alba once or twice. Pirlo passed beautifully, as always, and Marchisio got forward and made a real difference between the lines for Italy. Cassano and Balotelli linked up well, but Balotelli failed to take his chances and was hooked for the über-reliable deadly finishing of Di Natale…. who scored with his first attempt. This Italy side could go a long way with their experience and tactical adaptability.

Group D.

A fairly cautious line-up from Blanc. The defence were exposed at times, personnel changes may be sensible, but unlikely mid-tournament. Nasri jinked and linked very well throughout, with Ribery in able support. Debuchy got forward well and inched his price tag up a little further. Surprising to not see Giroud thrown on in an attempt to grab a goal, but Blanc seemed content with a draw at the end. They employed a high defensive line in the first half, which created a lot of space for England’s quick forwards. For the second half the defence was a lot deeper with the defensive midfield coming with them and cramping the space for the England quicks. France were also guilty of a lot of cynical pulls on the halfway line, preventing England’s counterattacks. It is clear that they are concerned about the defence’s lack of pace: somebody will pick that off.

Compact stuff defensively. The central midfield was always sat upon the back four. It was then predominantly left to Young and Welbeck to lead attacks. Welbeck had an outstanding game leading the line at such a young age. England’s defence performed pretty flawlessly. Hart had one or two early jitters, but became his usual commanding confident self in the second half. Hodgson will work on the positioning of Gerrard and Parker, but it certainly looks a solid base in defence. England will just need to find forward combinations and links that can unlock tighter defences than this suspect French back line. Oxlade-Chamberlain performed calmly and intelligently throughout. Flashes of brilliance showing the player he may be soon, but isn’t quite yet.

Handsome they may be, successful they weren’t. Overwhelmed by the Ukrainians’ boundless enthusiasm and Shevchenko’s deadly finishing. Zlatan shrugged off lazy commentary to form a great pivot for the team as they managed to create a number of good opportunities. Their back line and defence were simply outpaced far too often though. Mellberg has been slow for years, and the full backs lack awareness. Sweden looked disjointed for most of the game, and will need to up their game dramatically if they are to have any chance in the tournament.

Started poorly. There are clear weaknesses at the back. Pyatov is a shockingly poor keeper in every department. He looked susceptible to everything, but particularly high balls. Khacheridi looked one of those centre backs who has all the skills required, but is a bit too bonkers to be a good, calm centre back. Their frenzied attacking play worked really well and often overran the Swedes. Konoplyanka had real drive and was very direct in his runs. All topped off with clinical finishing from a resurgent Shevchenko. The Ukrainian nation will be on a massive high, and this could sweep them to a second win and progress.

Germany, Croatia and Russia were the stand-out sides of the first batch of games; with the Netherlands the biggest underperformers. Poland v Russia and the monstrous Netherlands v Germany have to be the pick of the second batch of matches.


By @tom7p

Follow us on twitter, @Feetballsblog

Group A.

Perennially mediocre co-hosts. A ragtag bunch of half-Poles. Lewandowski banged them in in Der Bundesliga, their great hope will be that he can transfer that to the Euros. With the in form Szczesny likely to provide some heroics at the back. Not much familiarity or quality in the rest of the line-up, a team of grafters. Blaszczykowski could be their one ray of quality in midfield. The Poles will need to start well, or it could get ugly – this team has not been wholly embraced by the populous.

Still all the same players. Some have drifted across the Premier League with varying levels of success: Bilyaletdinov, Pavlyuchenko, Zhirkov, Arshavin, Pogrebnyak. Others have been solid (and at times catastrophic) Champions League performers for the big Russian sides: Akinfeev, the Berezutskys, Kerzhakov. Possible reason for concern is that Akinfeev is only just back after a broken leg, and hasn’t quite regained his previously impressive form. But it’s basically all the same old faces. A generally solid back line anchored by CSKA players, and a rotating forward set-up predominantly linked to Zenit. An unpredictable bunch who could destroy their group, or who could implode at the first hurdle. May be helped by thinking they still run Eastern Europe and feel like they are playing at home.

Underwhelming euro 2004-lite shower. Reliant on a bunch of aged average players, including a few survivors from 2004. Samaras will slog around up-front, a few jinky wingers on the fringes, and a number of workers. You never know…. But you do, they’re poor.

Czech Republic.
They still have Milan Baros up-front! Rosicky always plays craftily well in the hole behind Baros, and Cech has been in inspired Chelsea form. Not a huge amount of experience in the rest of the team, tend to be conservative in their approach. (Dishonourable mention to Kadlec for his impressive penalty box acrobatics, ensuring the Czech’s unjust euro 2012 presence at the expense of Scotland, the cunt.-M)

Group B.

Mightily impressive squad, especially in forward areas. Stekelenberg’s their #1 keeper, despite Vorm and Krul carrying better form. Not the most accomplished of defences, though Heitinga marshals well. Tend to sport two crunching tacklers in Van Bommel and De Jong: real tough. Then a dizzying array of glorious talent in attack: Robben, Sneijder (on form now) and Van Persie. Huntelaar sniffs around the starting XI with his deadly form, though his inclusion has been seen to rock the tactical boat. There’s then also the sumptuous talents of Afellay and Luuk De Jong. The Oranje will be fun to watch, but under enormous pressure and expectation back home.

A team where Nicklas Bendtner is your key goal-getter is always going to carry some degree of unpredictability. Likely to play on the counter attack. A solid defence anchored by Sorensen and Agger. Christian Eriksen will spray the ball around with beautiful precision in midfield, inching his price up with every pass. Then old man Rommedahl will bomb forward to supply ‘The Greatest Striker In The World’.

Don’t be fooled by their pummelling at the hands of Switzerland, but do be fooled by it. That was their reserves, but their real defence is a touch ropey too. Mertesacker is in awful form, and Jerome Boateng never quite convinces. Neuer in goal lurches between months of world class form, then a sudden shocker of a match. The midfield is awash with talent. Schweinsteiger will anchor in his time-honoured fashion. Ozil and Khedira will provide the flair (with the options of Kroos, Reus, Gotze and more). Podolski and Muller provide the attacking drive, and Gomez the goals (when his confidence is there). Löw may flit to the tried and tested and throw in Klose with his 60+ international goals in place of a fragile Gomez.

A solid but unspectacular team with a seasoned defence and midfield of the likes of Pepe, Coentrao and Meireles. The effervescent Nani and Ronaldo will provide the spark, imagination and drive. Postiga acts as the pivot and occupies the opposition centre backs to clear the path for Ronaldo and Nani. If Ronaldo and Nani’s radars are on, Portugal’s simplistic methods could do some damage.

Group C

A stunning depth of talent. Ice cool Casillas in nets. The defence could be vulnerable, particularly without Puyol. Though the likes of Ramos and Pique are no mugs. Tend to have two holding midfielders, though somewhat more cultured than the Netherlands’ versions, Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Then Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva are likely to get the creative nod, with Cesc, Cazorla, Mata waiting in the wings. The midfield areas are ridiculous. Villa misses out with injury. My choice would be Llorente to provide a forward pivot and focal point, Del Bosque may be loyal to Torres. Goal machine Soldado will be disappointed to miss out.

Rocked by Scommessopoli directly disrupting their Euros training camp. The loss of Criscito at left back will be felt, but the well-worn concept of turmoil bringing a team together is quite likely to ring true. Russia exposed them last week, but Buffon and the defensive statistical colossus Chiellini should prove a solid foundation, well guarded by midfield. Pirlo will still spray with style, arguably still the best in the business at the age of 32. Prandelli is overwhelmed with forward options (even without Giuseppe Rossi), Balotelli looks likely to be key, with Di Natale surely springing from the bench. Diamanti and Cassano will be interesting wildcards. Italy will either blow it in the first round, or go deep into the tournament, a side of extremes in testing circumstances.

Republic Of Ireland.
A side as deeply likeable as an ultra-defensive side can be. Marshalled by the super sage Trapattoni, they boast a near-peerless defensive record in qualification. Given and Dunne herd a backline of seasoned versatile Premier League performers, all clear on their roles. A generally combative central midfield of two battlers. The consistent Duff and McGeady ,both in electric form, have been given the nod on the wings (McClean awaits on the bench, with the potential to be a Euro star). Then the evergreen Robbie Keane in the hole behind Doyle. Doyle will lumber, fail to score, and then be replaced by Walters or Long. It might just work.

Not the team they were a few years back. Still talented, though lacking the verve and thrust of yesteryear. Modric is there to pull the strings, jink and battle. The majority of the side is experienced, a little sluggish and generally defensive-minded: Corluka, Srna, Simunic. The powerhouse Jelavic could hit a hot streak as their lone front man, but it would be a surprise to see the increasingly-maligned Bilic go out on a high.

Group D

Who knows. With the newly-appointed gaffer Hodgson preaching organisation and solidity and some sound plans continually disrupted by injury, England will arrive with a patched up back four and central midfield. The Hodgson philosophy would hint that it may not matter that those defensive slots are occupied by the understudies’ understudies, as long as the organisation is there. Who knows. The hope will be that the likes of Young, Welbeck and Gerrard can spring from that defensive platform to exceed expectations, then Rooney will come in to lift everything after serving his suspension. Nobody knows, and for once nobody expects. This should lift the burden of incredible pressure forced on to an over hyped squad and may give them the freedom to succeed.

Riddled with defensive frailties: Mexes and Evra to name but two. This French team is weak at the back, despite Blanc’s very best efforts; and those weaknesses will be further exposed by the injury induced absence of Yann M’Vila from defensive midfield. Cabaye will do his best to shield the defence. Despite the defensive frailties a gorgeous array of forward talent is at their disposal: Marvin Martin, Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena, Menez, Ben Arfa. All could light up the tournament. There is then a debate around Giroud and Benzema up-front, but Blanc is truly spoilt for choice in the forward lines. Les Bleus will be fun to watch.

Co-hosts and a fairly poor team. Arguably weaker than Poland, as their Lewandowski is a 35 year old Shevchenko. They tend to go with a majority Shakhtar defence: a sound plan. Shielded by Tymoshchuk, still a battler. Milevskyi and Yarmolenko will provide the attacking flair behind Shevchenko, but tend to underwhelm. The crowds may lift them, but they’ll need it.

Not as defensive as the Sweden we are all used to. Bearded hero Olof Mellberg and lank-haired Jonas Olsson provide the centre back foundation for the team. A crafty set of midfielders, with Kallstrom and Larsson, capable of guile and impressive set piece creation, which could be a game changer. Zlatan plays as a number 10, usually behind the [skilful for a big man] Elmander. Though the on-fire Guidetti could nab Elmander’s spot. Zlatan and Guidetti would be sensational to watch. Sweden could be fun for once.

An undoubtedly wide open tournament, as is almost always the case with the tightly-matched Euros. Spain have to be favourites, with the Netherlands and Germany likely to run them close. Ireland and Portugal would be my dark horses. It’ll be glorious.

by Tom Pearson, @tom7p

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