The pressure being off England at Euro 2012 may help them achieve more than in previous tournaments, says Betfair ambassador Lee Dixon
It's almost unprecedented in the modern era for England to go into a major tournament with the public expecting so little from them. The reasons for that are obvious: there's a new manager at the helm, they will be without their first-choice striker for the first two games and this is a competition where, 1996 aside, they have traditionally struggled. It's no surprise really and perhaps after the hysteria of previous tournaments, it's encouraging that people are taking this adult stance on our chances.
And maybe it's a good thing.
In the past the Three Lions have struggled to match the expectations of fans and pundits, yet with the pressure off and hopes at a low ebb perhaps the team can relax and put in a good, solid tournament performance. I don't see us winning the thing, but I do rate Roy Hodgson far higher than many in this country and I think an organised England team have the ability to make the knockout stages.
It won't be easy, as the group opposition is tough, but there is enough quality and experience in the squad to qualify for the knockout stage. We start with France, the favourites to win Group D at 2.8, so our toughest game on paper, but I like that. Hodgson must target a win in that match and if we get it, I fancy England should be able to get enough from the remaining fixtures, even if we are playing a bogey team (Sweden) and one of the co-hosts (Ukraine).
If England get out of the group our likely quarter-final opponents will be Italy, or possibly Spain (1.6 favourites to win Group C). There's no shame in going out to either team and a competitive performance in that match will probably be enough to classify Euro 2012 a success as Hodgson's era as England manager really gets under way.
I spent a lot of time with Roy in Cape Town at the 2012 World Cup when we were working for the BBC. We spent hours talking - both of us speak the same football language and I found him enormously impressive. I really believe the players will react to Roy and run through brick walls for him. There are already positive noises coming out of the squad and I'm really positive on Roy's chances of long-term success with England.
More importantly, he is an astute tactician who has done well at international level before, most notably with Switzerland. He arrives in the job after a good season at West Brom and I would readily discount the half-season spent at Anfield as I don't think the cards were stacked in his favour there.
This will be a huge tournament for Andy Carroll, who will play as our one true striker throughout the first two games while Wayne Rooney is suspended. It's been a tricky season for the big Geordie, who rarely enjoyed a stable run in the Liverpool XI and only began to come good at the end of the campaign. His - and to a degree our - success will come down to how he deals with the pressure in those early fixtures. Some can cope with it and some can't, but I know I found it a tremendous motivator in my younger days with England. If Carroll succeeds in the first two games without Rooney we will surely be set fair for the knockout stages.
England boast one of the international scene's better defences and this unit looks reliable enough if lacking a little pace in the middle. I'm hopeful Joleon Lescott and John Terry can organise themselves to deal with that weakness, however, and Joe Hart is a fine No 1 who has enjoyed a fantastic season, while Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson offer pace on either flank. Much will come down to whether those right and left-backs can combine with England's wing men to provide decent service to Carroll.
In the middle, Scott Parker and captain Steven Gerrard offer good retention and protection but not a huge amount in attack. It's unlikely that Gerrard will be making too many lung-bursting runs any more.
In short, we look a little light on dynamism and imagination going forward, but can succeed through a well-organised defence and midfield coupled with Premier League quality and strength in attack.
England to be eliminated in the quarter-finals @ 3.3