The favourites for European crown

The recent friendly internationals gave us an idea of what to expect at the European Championship in Ukraine and Poland later. While the two World Cup finalists, Spain and Holland, look the best, the others need to do a lot of catching up, writes Brian Glanville.

A recent spate of friendlies gives us a slightly clearer picture of what the approaching European Championship finals may bring; and certainly there have been surprises. That of France 2-1 in Bremen was one of the biggest of them. It was only last November that the Germans had a pulverising 3-0 victory over Holland. Whom I saw at Wembley beat an England team thrown somewhat haphazardly together by temporary manager Stuart Pearce a good deal more easily than the 3-1 score and the last gasp goal suggest. That goal and another superb solo effort being scored by the astonishing Arjen Robben.

With Fabio Capello gone and Harry Redknapp, the popular favourite to succeed him, deeply involved for weeks to come with Tottenham, who are determined to keep him, the FA promoted Pearce as the temporary international manager, from his role with the under-21 team. It did not really work nor did I expect it too. With real tactlessness, and with the injured John Terry deprived of the captaincy, it looked obvious that Liverpool's influential Steven Gerrard would have it. But Pearce almost perversely gave the armband to Tottenham's Scott Parker, who played well enough, but it was a crude snub for Gerrard.

Moreover, with just this and two other friendlies to come before the European Championship finals begin in Ukraine and Poland, Pearce inexplicably and sorely irrationally decided he would give youth its experimental fling, speaking of wanting to see how young players would stand up to the “magnitude” of such a game, bizarrely picking the Sunderland centre forward, Fraizer Campbell, who'd only just returned to action after long months absent through injury, and the promising Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley — forced to withdraw from the squad — who had played only a handful of first team games this season. Meanwhile, in Terry's absence, excluding his most experienced centre back, Rio Ferdinand, and initially excluding from the squad the able Manchester City stopper, Joleon Lescott. Preferring the inexperienced United youngster, Chris Smalling, who'd yet to play centrally in defence for England. Gaps inevitably appeared. Lescott did get called up; but stayed on the bench. Afterwards, Pearce, somewhat mysteriously, said that he wanted to run the team at the European tournament, but didn't feel experienced enough to take it into the ensuing World Cup 2014 eliminators!

As things stand, whoever, Harry or anyone else, who managed England in the Euros would be lucky to survive the first qualifying pool. The French winning 2-1 in Germany the same evening as England lost to the impressive Dutch, were a shining surprise. Vindication for their manager and former elegant centre back Laurent Blanc.

Strange to think that before this impressive win, Blanc seemed far from certain to have his contract renewed by the French Federation. The body which, with incomprehensible folly, had kept in office his predecessor, Raymond Domenech, despite a disastrous previous European tournament, and who hopelessly lost control of a turbulent team in South Africa.

Blanc by contrast even without that elusive attacker Karim Benzema — who was injured — brought into his team the kind of new blood Pearce might have envied and was rewarded by fine performances from such as the Lille right back Mathieu Debuchy, who set up the first French goal like a true winger, for the equally prominent Olivier Giroud of Montpellier.

England who won't have the suspended Wayne Rooney for their first two Euro games must face the French in their opening match. They must then confront the Swedes who, on that same night of friendlies, triumphed 3-1 in Zagreb against Croatia, their opening goal from a penalty going to the towering, ever unpredictable but hugely talented, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, destroyer of Arsenal in Milan. The third England match when Rooney plays — how match fit he will be by then? — brings them face to face with a Ukraine team playing on their home ground. Passionately supported, in Kiev, Ukraine too have been in winning form; their victory that night came in Israel.

Italy's 1-0 defeat in Genoa by the United States in front of a mere 15,000 crowd didn't deter their manager, Cesare Prandelli, from whistling loudly in the dark. “With this spirit we'll have a great European Championship,” he declared. “I'm absolutely not worried.” But surely, after losing for the first time to the USA — though admittedly they had and missed the most chances — optimism is hardly justified. Like his predecessor, Marcello Lippi, he is faced with the problem of what to do with the maverick, eternally undisciplined, but potentially match-winning Mario Balotelli. Lippi didn't take either him or that other gifted but older maverick, Antonio Cassano, to the World Cup in South Africa. Cassano is still recovering from a grave operation, Balotelli, with Manchester City, is perpetually in hot water on and off the pitch; but he can always get spectacular goals. A managerial dilemma.

Spain cannot call on David Villa, still mending a broken leg, in attack, nor can they use the refulgent star of the Barcelona attack, Argentina's Lionel Messi — scorer of another hattrick in Switzerland. But new hope in attack is given by the re-emergence of Roberto Soldado, now at Valencia and scorer of that recent hattrrick in the 5-0 demolition of Venezuela.