No more false sense of England optimism

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Football is a funny old game. Passion, hunger, and determination for success - all the attributes a loyal fan possesses, and also looks for in every player that pulls on their club's famous colours.

But what about at international level? I for one, have always struggled to muster the same innate feelings of support towards the England national team, be it during a long, often laborious qualifying campaign, or at a major summer tournament.

Perhaps then, it's no surprise my distinct lack of optimism for the Three Lions in the months leading up to Euro 2012, a competition set to be hosted in the unfavourable location of Poland and Ukraine.

With no permanent captain or manager, our already slim hopes of success this summer are hanging delicately by a thread, and is the number one reason why the tournament must be approached with a distinct sense of caution.

Optimists will point to the comfortable way in which England qualified under the former stewardship of Fabio Capello. But, qualifying isn't proof of anything other than an ability to steer clear of horrible embarrassment - which has since reared its head following the Italian tactician's surprise resignation in reaction to the Football Association's decision to strip John Terry of the national armband.

Interim manager, Stuart Pearce, took temporary charge of England's 3-2 friendly defeat against Holland at Wembley last month, and provided little reason to suggest that my deep-rooted pessimism is even the slightest bit misplaced.

Quite frankly, there is no way England can match the likes of the technically superior Dutch side, nor can we compete with Germany, Spain or Italy. We are a quarter-finals sort of team at best, and without a remarkable turnaround in footballing ability or a gigantic slice of fortune, it's unlikely we'll be anything more than that for the foreseeable future.

Wayne Rooney is the only member from the current crop of international players who consistently displays the touch, awareness and skill to trouble on the world's biggest stage. A harsh assessment maybe, but it's a reality nonetheless.

In every international tournament though, there seems to always be one plucky underdog that unexpectedly goes the distance in a major finals. Could that be England this year?

Without the services of Rooney in two of our three group games this summer, the underdog tag is a pragmatic label that I think the country should accept graciously. After all, progression into the next round will be an achievement in itself in the absence of our best player.

For the more passionate fans, it's always the hope that kills you with England. In recent years, that 'hope' has come from increasingly desperate places. In 2004, it was an emerging 18-year-old Evertonian by the name of Wayne Rooney, and in 2006 it was 17-year-old Arsenal starlet Theo Walcott, who travelled to the World Cup in Germany without ever having played a Premier League game.

The sobering failure to qualify for Euro 2008 provided something of a wake-up call, for a footballing nation that continues to rely heavily on former glories - specifically a 1966 World Cup win, some 46 years ago - to justify it's place amongst other leading countries.

That's why England are doing us a favour playing so badly at present. Unspectacular performances should, in theory, lead to unremarkable expectations. Our obvious inferiority gives Three Lions' supporters no genuine cause for optimism. So, a word of warning - Euro 2012 will be no different.

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