By Lee Dover
England begin their long and winding road to the 2014 World Cup in Rio tonight with an away trip to Moldova.
As the nation holds their collective breath and prepares for another rollercoaster ride courtesy of the Three Lions, there is still no idea if the team will roar to victory or whimper like a lost kitten over the next couple of years. The Paddy Power Blog looks at reasons for cheer and concern.
Reasons to feel happy
1. Euro 2012 was not a total shambles
When Fabio Capello spat his dummy out and declared his time as England manager was at an end back in February, everyone seemed to go to panic stations.
People were certain the Three Lions would be totally humiliated in Poland and the Ukraine, flying back home with three defeats to their name.
In reality, Euro 2012 turned out to be a step in the right direction for the England camp. They recorded victories over the Ukraine and Sweden, drew against France having led at one point and were only knocked out of the tournament in a tense penalty shootout against Italy.
2. Roy Hodgson’s managerial experience at Fulham
You can talk about your Special Ones and your Sirs, but Roy Hodgson lays claim to one of the most magnificent feats in football in recent memory.
When Fulham bagged a spot in the Europa League at the end of the 2008/09 season, it was thought the London club would enjoy a short stint in the competition before going out respectable losers.
But Hodgson surpassed expectations when he led Fulham through 19 games in the Europa League and got them all the way through to the final.
While they were finally undone at the hands of Atletico Madrid, albeit after extra time, the Cottagers had done enough to put themselves on the football world’s map.
3. Stevie G has faith in England’s abilities
Hot Chocolate are not the only ones who believe in miracles, as Steven Gerrard is confident England can win the World Cup in Rio in 2014.
Before you phone the asylum and ask that the Merseyside icon is put in a straitjacket, let’s hear him out.
Gerrard stated: “We are not one of the favourites to win the World Cup. That doesn’t mean you stop believing, working hard to improve, and learning from the mistakes you’ve made at previous tournaments. This team has every chance to get better in the next few years, with some players coming through and others with the experience.”
In the words of American rockers Journey – don’t stop believing.
Reasons to be scared
1. A growing injury crisis
Roy Hodgson has tried to stop the public outcry over the fact that England’s footballers seem like stick figures at the moment.
“It is a great blow to lose players you have selected but we chose a large squad to cope with that,” the gaffer stated.
While this is all well and good, we are not talking about fringe players being on the sidelines.
No, it is Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll who have walked into the injury room recently, as well as Three Lions veteran Ashley Cole and standout winger Adam Johnson.
2. Roy Hodgson’s managerial experience at Liverpool
It was inevitable the big boys were going to come sniffing soon after Roy Hodgson led Fulham to the Europa League final.
So when the gaffer made the switch from Craven Cottage to Anfield to become Liverpool manager, the red half of Merseyside felt that the good times were going to come around once more.
However, the Kop received a hard slap across the face for jumping to quick conclusions, after Hodgson could only lead Liverpool to seven wins out of 20 Premier League games. Grim.
3. Painful memories of South Africa 2010
As England prepare to begin their journey towards the 2014 World Cup, the Three Lions must have the horrors of South Africa two years ago still fresh in their memories.
It is hard to find even one good point from England’s entire 2010 World Cup campaign, as they began with a frustrating 1-1 draw against the USA.
Things went from bad to worse quickly when the Three Lions fired a blank in a goalless draw against minnows Algeria, before scraping into the knockout stages with a tense 1-0 win over Slovenia.
Even this solitary victory proved a curse in disguise, as England’s long-time bitter rivals Germany put Capello’s men out of their misery by thrashing them 4-1.
It was a humbling experience for a bruised and battered Three Lions squad to say the least. But has the team learnt from their mistakes?
England are 1/3 with Paddy Power to begin their World Cup qualification campaign with a win against Moldova, while the price of 15/4 for a frustrating draw to be the result cannot be totally overlooked.