At 17:00 in Donetsk this evening, England begin their Euro 2012 Finals campaign. In England the tournament has not been afforded as much hype as those before it. Even the European Championships in 2008, for which England did not qualify, was greeted with more excitement on these shores.
There are a few reasons for this lack of enthusiasm; they include disenchantment, fear and distraction.
England fans are waking from a dream in large numbers. The dream that England are good – good enough even to win an international tournament – has been nothing other than a fantasy for nearly half a century.
This realisation has manifested itself as disenchantment in some supporters, mainly those that see their nation’s failure as a personal affront.
Others feel liberated by the lack of hope. Just as a person who doesn’t fear death can enjoy the rest of their life.
But the latter cohort are small in number, so the vast majority of England fans are disappointed to finally accept that their beloved national team is, quite simply, no good.
They won’t just stop following England though; the passion is too deep seated. For this reason they are also scared. Scared that the team they have supported so fervently over the years could be embarrassed at Euro 2012. Beginning with a potentially humiliating defeat at the hands – or feet – of an old foe … France.
The French team has undergone a revolution since their mutiny at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and Les Bleus humbled England when the sides met in a friendly at Wembley in November 2010. England failed to cope with the free-flowing football France displayed that evening and many fans see Monday being a carbon copy of that game. In fact, it could be much worse. France, after all, are undefeated in 21 games and appear to be scoring goals at the flick of a switch, good goals too.
With this French prowess in mind, it is highly likely that England will take a defeat into their second group game against Sweden – a side they always struggle against. If they fail to get three points against Ibrahimovic and co., England’s match against co-hosts Ukraine may well be a mere formality and, therefore, their last of the summer.
Even after accepting that England are not the side they should be, crashing out of the Euros at the group stage would still be a huge embarrassment for them.
Strangely, though, going out of this summer’s big football tournament so early will not be that big a deal to the English media, who are usually queueing up for a chance to chastise any and every player, or manager, wearing the Three Lions. This is because the hacks will soon be distracted by this summer’s big sports tournament.
The 2012 Olympics officially begin in the UK on 27 July. They have had such an influence on every facet of the country for the past 6 months that Euro 2012 has creeped into our pubs and living rooms pretty much unnoticed.
When ‘the games’ begin, 26 days after the Euro 2012 final, they will provide a welcome distraction from England’s ailing national team. The nation will instead be able to back a new set of players in Team GB. That side could fail remarkably and no one will care, because no one expects anything of them.
However, that last point raises some eyebrows about the current England squad too. If the majority of the country believe England can achieve nothing at the Euros and the media finally stop heaping pressure on the players, then surely England can play without fear and potentially go further than ever before? This suggestion has, somewhat paradoxically, led many fans to believe England can win. But they’re too scared to say anything in case doing so puts pressure on the team and jinxes everything.
At the moment the nation treads on eggshells thinking or pretending to think that England are rubbish at football, all while harbouring that immortal hope that ‘this could be our year’.
When the final whistle is blown in Donetsk tonight, we will know where we stand.
Let the games begin.