England must banish fear of failure

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It seems like another day cannot pass without another England casualty.

Ashley Cole is the latest squad member to miss training - the result of a 'stomach bug' yesterday, according to the FA bigwigs. But, even if he's passed fit for Monday's game with France, Roy Hodgson will surely curse his rotten luck.

Alongside Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, Ashley Cole is England's sole world-class player, and with Rooney absent for the majority of the group stages, the England boss was surely looking for Cole to provide welcome experience.

Only nine of Hodgson's 23-man party have experience of an international tournament, but unfortunately for the England manager, the majority of the injury concerns focus upon those experienced players.

John Terry has declared himself fit for France, despite a niggling hamstring injury, while Steven Gerrard was forced off against Belgium and Scott Parker is still battling to convince coaches of his return to full fitness. Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard, two old-heads, have also had to withdraw from the squad while Jermain Defoe has returned home for the foreseeable future.

But despite the casualties, England still go into the competition with an excellent chances of escaping the group stages, and reaching their favourite tournament resting-place, the quarter final.

An inexperienced team has acted to temper expectations, while the final remnants of the so-called 'golden generation' has gradually been eased out by the young pretenders.

England's young stars don't have the reputation, or the ability, of other European heavyweights, but the likes of Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can make important contributions.

The difference is between England's squad and the tournament favourites is the strength in depth. Hodgson's hand was forced by the injury crisis that engulfed his squad as they departed for Krakow, and these youngsters inclusions was ultimately forced upon him.


Of course, Hogdson has one eye on Brazil World Cup in 2014 but so do they other big nations, and they party is still packed with first-team talent.

Spain, France, Germany and Holland can blood their best starlets, but still afford to leave some at home for the under-21s. Spain' most inexperienced players are full-back duo Jordi Alba and Juanfran, both recognised international quality players and Germany have opted for Andre Schurrle, Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Gotze - a trio of outstanding talent.

England's lack of first-team tournament depth pales in comparison to the others, but it could play into Hodgson's hands. A squad full of compromises dampens expectations, and England are well-served by aiming a little lower this time around.

That's not to say the Three Lions don't possess the ability to mount a title challenge, but it's more likely to follow the Greek template than the Spanish one. Their first group test against France, on June 11, will by far their toughest, and will provide a barometer by which to gauge their true credentials.

But the England camp are confident of starting their Euro 2012 campaign off well, and Liverpool midfielder Stewart Downing believes Hodgson's preparation will pay off in Donetsk.

"We are confident we can get a result," said Downing. "We don't fear them." But in the past it hasn't been their fear of opponents that's let them down - they face the same players routinely in the Champions League. Instead, England players fear the occasion.

The same 23 players face considerable pressure in their Premier League and Champions League campaigns, but the burden of expectation is amplified in England by virtue of the country's past history. 'This is our year' is a familiar refrain, but it's popularity stems from routine disappointments.

The England players fear letting others down, and by doing do precede to let others down. Penalties are the classic example of temperament triumphing over technique, and we all know England's penalty record.

Perhaps this time, with a younger squad, still green on the international stage, England will play somewhere approaching their potential. In the past, the big-names on the team-sheet have failed to deliver in the white shirt.

Now, with a pragmatic, international-savvy coach in charge, the Three Lions might just surprise a few people. Downing's right, England shouldn't fear France. They are more than a match once 11 players step onto the field. It's the fear of failure which could hold them back.

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Joe Hart
Ashley Cole
John Terry
Wayne Rooney

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