Hodgson's boys have a lot to prove

England will sorely miss the services of Wayne Rooney, serving a two-match ban, for the first two crucial fixtures against France and Sweden. So, will manager Roy Hodgson's ploy of packing the side with attacking midfielders in an attempt to give it more striking power help? By A. Vinod.

England, the only World Cup winner from Europe yet to lift the Henry Delaunay Cup, enters EURO 2012 with the hope of creating a definite impact, at least this time. The nation failed to qualify for the tournament in 2008 after finishing third behind Croatia and Russia in the qualifying round. The team did not face much problem in the qualifiers this time, making it to the championship in Poland and Ukraine by finishing on top in Group G with six points.

England now has a new manager in Roy Hodgson after Fabio Capello, who guided the team during the qualifiers, resigned four months ago. While this has caused a major setback to the preparations of the team, what could still prove to be a headache for England in the group stage of EURO 2012 is the absence of its key striker Wayne Rooney.

Rooney will miss England's first two crucial group matches — against France (June 11) and Sweden (June 15) — as he is serving a two-match ban for a foul on Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic during the qualifiers. His absence could affect England's fortunes as the side would be left rudderless at the top of the field while going for goals against tough opponents. Hodgson has very little time to experiment now. Taking into consideration the non-availability of Rooney for the first two matches, he has packed the side with attacking midfielders in an attempt to give it more striking power.

As Switzerland's manager in the 1994 World Cup, it was Hodgson's defensive organisation that caught the eye. Though he had constantly favoured the 4-4-2 system of play at West Brom, Liverpool and Fulham, where he had served as manager, pundits are of the view that Hodgson could opt for the more tried and tested 4-2-3-1 format in which England has shown to be comfortable in recent years. This should, in all probability, see young Danny Welbeck starting upfront, backed by skipper Steven Gerrard, Ashley Young and Theo Walcott playing behind him.

Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole will be entrusted with the job of defending the England goal along with the irresistible goalkeeper Joe Hart.

England's strength is its high work ethic and the clinical efficiency of its midfielders, especially in counter-attack. The team's obvious weakness is its defence, especially after the omission of veteran Rio Ferdinand from the squad.

In major tournaments, England has always raised expectations. But since 1966, after tasting success in the World Cup in its backyard, it has only flattered to deceive, causing a lot of heartburn to fans. In the 2010 World Cup too, England failed to live up to expectations and returned home without making it to the knock-out stage.

The Englishmen this time are not in an enviable position as they strive to better their semifinal appearances in 1968 and 1996. Yet, one can write England off only at his peril.

THE TEAM

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Robert Green, Jack Butland.

Defenders: Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Martin Kelly, John Terry, Leighton Baines, Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka.

Midfielders: Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Ashley Young, James Milner, Scott Parker, Stewart Downing.

Forwards: Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll, Wayne Rooney, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jermain Defoe, Danny Welbeck.