TODAY is the start of the 2012 European Championships. With England going into a major tournament without the usual huge expectations from the nation, can they surprise us all by having a successful championships?
Have champions Spain got what it takes to back up their 2008 win and World Cup victory in 2010 with yet another win? Or will perennial tournament specialists Germany be lifting the trophy in three weeks’ time?
James Colasanti and Chris Phillips ask four local football experts for their views on the tournaments’ runners and riders.
STEVE TILSON, FORMER SOUTHEND UNITED MANAGER
I’M tipping Spain to come out on top at the European Championships.
I know some people think their powers are dwindling but I don’t agree with that at all. You only have to look at the football Barcelona and Real Madrid played last season to see what they are still capable of.
Athletic Bilbao, who were only about 10th in their league, also absolutely ripped Manchester United apart in the Europa League and Spain have so many talented players in their squad.
I have to say I’m less confident about England’s chances.
I obviously want us to do well but I’m worried we might not be able to get out of the group.
France will be a very tough opening game and they’re my dark horses to do well.
They had a disastrous World Cup but have really turned things around under Laurent Blanc and I think they’ll surprise a few people.
But I think Spain will win it and I’m on a roll at the moment after tipping the winner of the Southend Crewe game to get promotion in the Echo only a few weeks ago!
NEIL HARRIS, SOUTHEND UNITED STRIKER
HOLLAND are my tip for the European Championships this year.
I just think with the style that they play that sooner or later they will win a big tournament.
And I think this could be their time.
They are in a tough group along with Denmark, Germany and Portugal, though.
But I think that will help them because they will have to play well early on.
You would always expect them to score plenty of goals but I think it’s going to be hard for England.
I think we will get out of the group we’re in but will then have to play Spain or Italy at the quarter final stage.
So it looks like topping the group could therefore be important for progression in the tournament.
However, after the group stage I think it would become a bit of a lottery for England.
As far as the dark horses for the tournament are concerned I’m going to go for Russia.
I fancy them to get out of their group which also includes Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic.
But I think France are another team who could well surprise a few people.
I just hope if the French really click into gear they do it after they’ve played England!
GLENN POOLE, BILLERICAY TOWN MIDFIELDER
I THINK Spain will win the championship, but I’ve got a sneaky feeling France are going to do well.
I’ve watched a few France games recently and I have to say they look mustard.
I think England will get out of their group. And because expectations levels are so low and because of the injury problems we’ve had I think that will help us because the pressure will be off.
I think Danny Welbeck might have a good tournament for us, along with Scott Parker and Joe Hart.
And I think Phil Jagielka will also come out of it well because I think he’s a player who is under-rated.
As for dark horses I’d say have a look at Portugal and Italy.
It’s funny to call Italy dark horses, but that’s shows what’s happened to them in recent years.
I think Portugal are odds of 17/1 to win – that’s worth a look.
DANNY COWLEY, CONCORD RANGERS MANAGER
I THINK it is difficult to look beyond Spain for the title.
If they get it right and click into gear with the way they play the game I can’t see anyone beating them, and they’ve already proved that they can win on the biggest stage.
I think England’s biggest problem is they are just not suited to international football because you’ve got to be very good in terms of ball retention, and unfortunately we’re not.
It looks like we’re going to go out there and sit behind the ball and make it difficult for teams to break us down.
I think what we’ll try to do is hit teams on the break with the pace of Ashley Young with Danny Welbeck probably getting the starting place up front.
I’m as patriotic as the next person and I will be fully behind the team, but I have to say this is the least excited I’ve been about an England team going into a major tournament since 1988 – and we all know what happened there!
My head says they won’t get out of the group, but my heart says they’ll find a way to get to the final.
And to be honest – although it pains me to say it – I think Ireland might get further than England here.
As for a dark horse, I would say Russia.
It is being played in their homeland almost and they have some good players as well.