State of the Nation: No room for error before return of Rooney

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EARLIER this month, the Football Association made a point of stressing that England’s training base in Krakow for Euro 2012 will be ready in time despite scare stories in the national media.

Whether the same assurances can be made about Fabio Capello’s side is something that will be debated across the country right up until the tournament kicks off in June.

The wounds left by not only England’s lame performance in the last two World Cups but also the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 under Steve McClaren run deep.

A bout of tub-thumping by the more vociferous members of Capello’s squad during the build-up will, this time, not be enough to convince a sceptical nation.

Instead, only deeds will do and that means how England perform once the real action gets under way against France in Donetsk on June 11.

Until then, pessimism will surely abound amid the talk of who should be part of the squad and who should stay at home.

Many names pick themselves, of course. Wayne Rooney, even before his ban was reduced to two games, was surely going to be the first name on the plane, closely followed by a host of players that include Joe Hart, Ashley Cole, Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Darren Bent.

Only injury can, surely, prevent these being part of Capello’s plans. After these, however, there are plenty of big decisions for the Italian to make with the need to find a reliable central defensive partnership surely the priority.

Looking around the Premier League, none of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka would feature in a list of the top five in-form defenders right now.

Ditto right-back, a position that since the retirement of Gary Neville has become as difficult to fill as the left wing used to be under Sven Goran Eriksson, and back-up goalkeeper, where the paucity of options makes keeping Hart fit a must if England are to do anything next summer.

One thing in England’s favour is the draw for Euro 2012 with France, Ukraine and Sweden far from the toughest Capello’s side could have been handed.

Even so, optimism is likely to be thin on the ground until the Three Lions put in their first stellar performance of the tournament.

It may have to wait until the final group game when Rooney, England’s only true world-class talent, returns – meaning there can be no room for error against either the French on June 11 or Sweden four days later.