England's European prospects

England's dismal form against the likes of Montenegro, twice, Wales, who threw away such an easy chance to draw at Wembley, and Switzerland, give little cause for optimism. Not least when the tournament begins without Wayne Rooney, very properly suspended for his vicious and unprovoked assault in the game against Montenegro. Over to Brian Glanville.

Why Fabio Capello looked so happy after the draw for the coming European Championship finals was hard to deduce. England's group contains Ukraine, the hosts, France and Sweden. And England in the all too recent past under Capello have found it hard to beat anyone at all. Even Sweden, who after many years conceded 1-0 at Wembley, can hardly be as bad as they were on that evening; and even then they went down only to a single deflected goal. If their potential star turn, the eternally moody and inconsistent striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, can only decide to exert himself on the night, then England, and a far from reassuring veteran central defence, could be in danger.

It is baffling that despite all three of England's qualifying fixtures being in Ukraine, Capello has almost perversely decided to keep the England base hundreds of miles away in Poland's Cracow, thus ensuing long air journeys — and we can only hope the planes used there prove reliable and safe.

England's dismal form against the likes of Montenegro, twice, Wales, who threw away such an easy chance to draw at Wembley, and Switzerland, give little cause for optimism. Not least when the tournament begins without Wayne Rooney, very properly suspended for his vicious and unprovoked assault in the game against Montenegro. Understandably Capello has been hell bent on getting the suspension reduced from three games to two but on what grounds it was hard to predict.

What he does have is a clutch of excellent wingers, with Theo Walcott of late full of pace and elusive dash on the right flank, Stewart Downing well capable of using his own pace and skills on either flank, and Manchester City's Alan Johnson more than capable of doing damage with his clever technique on either flank.

Most important is surely the total recovery from that long enduring injury of Arsenal's precocious playmaker — alas the only one of his English kind — Jack Wilshere. He alone — unless Rooney is able to play, and play deeper — is capable of making the bullets for the attack to fire. But there is still alas no obvious centre forward, Darren Bent being essentially a very effective club player. Manchester United's Ashley Young is probably the best all round attacker England have bar Rooney but he isn't a number nine.

Inconsistent France who must be faced in the opening game took England apart when they came to Wembley last season and the chief architects of that disaster, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema, will be menacingly there again with the ebullient support of Franco Ribery who of late has been in inspired form in the wing for Bayern Munich. Add the emerging presence of the 21-year-old central holding midfielder Yann M'Vila who has given new strength to that area, and though their form this season may have been inconsistent, you cannot see them being anything but a major threat to this England team.

And why undervalue the hosts Ukraine whom England must meet in what could well be the decisive group game for them? The last time England visited Ukraine — now strong in stadia but devoid of hotels — was in their last World Cup 2010 qualifying game; and for the first time, the Ukrainians beat them, 1-0.

A team which can draw 3-3 with mighty Germany, and Ukraine did, can hardly be taken lightly, and they have the impassioned crowd of Donetsk raucously behind them. Yevhen Olehovych Konoplianka, a dynamic attacking midfielder did exceptionally well in that German game and will have to be countered. Andriy Mykolaiovich Yarmolenko has been doing impressive things on the left-wing for Dynamo Kiev and I seem to remember the right flank of England's defence having trouble when Ukraine won that last game.

Favourites are Spain and Germany perhaps. Yes England did beat the Spaniards so surprisingly at Wembley but it was thanks only to a massively manned defence. And perhaps it was significant that next time out in distant San Jose they were held to a 2-2 draw against the modest though emerging Costa Rica team. In Ukraine they will be in the same group as Italy who recently went down 1-0 at home to Suarez-inspired Uruguay. Of their two main mavericks Italy will have Mario Balotelli with his huge skills and infinite unpredictability but Antonio Cassano also will rake along to recovery from a major operation.

Have we seen the news of Spain? It's said that Spain without Lionel Messi can never be the same threat as Barcelona for all the midfield supremacy of Xavi, Iniesta and Xavi Alonso. Ireland under genial Gianni Trapattoni have done surprisingly well to get so far but they are unlikely to go any further. Croatia despite Luka Mordric seem past their peak.

The “group of death” is surely that which included the powerful Germans, the talented Dutch whom they recently beat 3-0 and Portugal who can once again call on the myriad talents the supreme finishing of Cristiano Ronaldo. One Germans with such excellent young players as Mario Gomez on the right flank coming through, with Gomez a proven goal scorer, with Mesut Ozil still such a glorious all round midfielder, should surely survive. But who else?