As I write, I’m sat watching England take on Switzerland in our eighth Euro 2016 qualifier. We’ve already reached the tournament with seven wins from seven, the pressure is off and Wayne Rooney is on the verge of becoming this country’s record goalscorer. It should be a game which I can enjoy watching, knowing that the Three Lions will be in France next summer. But there’s still a slight concern in the back of mind that the tournament could be yet another miserable disappointment.
Why? We qualified with ease, in fact we were the first to qualify apart from the hosts. But when you look at the teams in our group, anything less than qualification with ease would have be an underachievement. We have by far the easiest set of opponents out of the whole qualification process. The world rankings even prove it. Alright, they may not be a completely true representation of how the nations grade, but for the purposes of what I’m trying to explain, they make sense. The average ranking of teams in Group E (England’s group) is 75th, lower than any other group. Group I, which contains Albania, Armenia, Denmark, Portugal & Serbia has the highest average ranking (42nd) so is supposedly the hardest.
That shows you that England are not being tested. There’s no point playing the likes of San Marino and Lithuania when firstly a win is pretty much guaranteed, and secondly, they are nowhere near the quality you will face in tournament football. It raises the whole argument as to whether we should allow these lowly ranked ‘part-time’ into the qualification process as they will never have any chance of winning. Kudos must go to the Faroe Islands though, who were ranked 170th just two years ago, but have now risen to 75th and beaten Euro 2004 winners twice in Group F.
Praise out of the way, as I certainly won’t be giving any to England any time soon. Certainly not until a successful performance next summer anyway. Of course I’m happy to have qualified and be the first team do so, but as aforementioned, I expected that so it’s not like Roy Hodgson’s men have performed brilliantly. How can you possibly judge when the quality of opposition is so poor?
In qualification for the 2014 World Cup, we again went unbeaten throughout the entire campaign, but of course flopped completely in Brazil, exiting at the group stage with just one point from three games. Granted, we were in a tough group, but we could very easily see a similar scenario in France, because as it stands, we we are just about scraping a place in the pot of first seeds. And that’s only because the tournament has been expanded to 6 groups.
I’m pleased to see that the FA have arranged friendlies against Germany, France and Spain in the coming months, which should test the squad to an extent. However in friendlies you still can’t replicate the competitive atmosphere and intensity of tournament football. There’s plenty of ideas and suggestions as to how to solve this ‘problem’ of easy, unchallenging qualifying games, but that’s probably for another article as this pessimistic rant has gone on for too long.
Of course I hope England prove me wrong and play some really impressive football in the above friendlies and at Euro 2016 in order to go as far as possible. Give us something to cheer about boys!