Team GB: What are their chances at the Olympics?

With the current campaign over, all eyes are turning to the summer’s international tournaments to fill the off-season void. Euro 2012 comes first in June, before the exciting prospect of Team GB competing for gold at the Olympics. With some of the traditionally bigger nations not present at the competition in London, the home representation will be one of the favourites to claim gold medals, but who will be playing and can they go all the way?

Firstly it should be stated that Team GB manager Stuart Pearce has been in contact with potential players about their interest in competing at the games, with a shortlist of a whopping 80 players being compiled. The squad must be completely 23 years old or under, with leeway for three overage players. Team GB will be comprised of athletes from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and any player who represents England at Euro 2012 will not be considered.

With such a wide span of players to pick from, predicting the Team GB squad is difficult, but there are a number of players who have been mentioned and are seemingly eager to compete. David Beckham has been a high-profile name mentioned as a possible captain, however Pearce recently admitted that the LA Galaxy midfielder’s inclusion will be decided on form and fitness. Welsh midfielders Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have both been raised as possible candidates for inclusion, and the north London duo would add much-needed quality to the side. From Northern Ireland, Manchester United defender Jonny Evans had been touted to be included but this has been ruled out by the Red Devils, whilst the likes of Barry Bannan and Grant Hanley are potential Scottish inclusions.

The majority of the squad will be comprised of English players, with youngsters on the verge of the senior squad for Euro 2012 potentially taking part. Jack Wilshere has not been ruled out by Pearce in playing, despite the Arsenal man’s long-term injury concerns. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tom Cleverley will wait to see if they are needed in Ukraine and Poland, and if not could feature. Finally, Jack Rodwell has been ruled out of Euro 2012 through injury, but could well play in the games as part of his rehabilitation and recovery. With Pearce as manager, former or current England under-21 players could make up a bulk of the 18-man squad.

But can they lift the gold? One of he factors working against the side will be lack of preparation time, and the fact that most of the players will never have played together. However, along with Spain and Brazil, Team GB will be one of the frontrunners for victory, as the rest of the 16 teams seem beatable on paper. Team GB have been drawn in Group A alongside Senegal, Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates, with their first game against the African nation on July 26th.

All-in-all, glory for Team GB at the Olympics would be a real milestone for the game in the United Kingdom, and an excellent collective and personal achievement for the players. With a raft of Premier League talent likely to make up the squad, there is no reason why the hosts will not celebrate glory in the final on August 11th.

Published – 2012 Olympics Blog

England vs Bulgaria: Three Points A Must For Fabio Capello’s Men

England continue their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign this week with fixtures against Bulgaria and Wales promising to give the fans a better idea of the nation’s chances of competing in Poland and Ukraine next year. With Fabio Capello’s men locked at the top of Group G on 11 points with Montenegro and an away day in Podgorica still to come, the Three Lions can ill-afford many more slip-ups.

The Italian coach has selected a number of promising youngsters in his squad for the match in Sofia, and it will be interesting to see whether the likes of Manchester United pairing Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley are trusted to start the match. Chris Smalling has impressed the former Real Madrid coach thus far this term, and should also pick up his international debut at right back. With no Rio Ferdinand to call upon, it will be a toss up between Jones, Lescott and Cahill to who partners skipper John Terry in the heart of the English rearguard.

In attack Wayne Rooney will harbour the responsibility of getting the goals to win the match, and the United striker has started the season in blistering form, with a hat-trick against Arsenal last Sunday ensuring the 25-year-old goes into the game full of confidence. Darren Bent is an injury concern so Andy Carroll may accompany the former Everton man up front.

Bulgaria were put to the sword at Wembley in the return fixture back in September 2010, with Jermain Defoe scoring three in a comfortable 4-0 win. The away match will be no walk in the park however, as the luxury and familiarity of Wembley will be traded in for the hostility of the Stadion Vasil Levski.

The home side no longer have all-time top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov to call upon, who quit the international set-up back in May 2010, but despite this Bulgaria will have some strong players on show come Friday. Stiliyan Petrov will be a familiar face for the away midfield, and the likes of Scott Parker or Gareth Barry will need to get close to the Aston Villa midfielder, who has the ability to shoot from distance or create chances for others. Former Manchester City forward Valeri Bojinov has not been selected in the squad, but Bolton’s Martin Petrov may feature.

The match will be given an extra bite by the fact that the home coach Lothar Matthaus has been vocal in the media this week and will motivate his players to get three points on Friday. The former Germany international got the better of England in his playing days, and will look to replicate this in his managerial tenure, despite the fact that Bulgaria are almost assured of missing out on Euro 2012.

A win would go far to alleviating fears of a do or die game in Montenegro next month, a draw is not ideal but would be acceptable and a loss would put the nation’s chances of competing in the European Championships in jeopardy. Expect a hostile reception from a passionate home faithful, and Bulgaria to come out of the blocks quickly, but if England can weather an early storm they should have the players and the experience to see them home.

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Does the crop of young centre-backs at Manchester United spell the end for Rio Ferdinand?

Since joining Manchester United from Leeds back in July 2002 for £30 million, Rio Ferdinand has been a mainstay in Sir Alex Ferguson’s backline, a captain, leader and talisman. The centre half has lifted five Premier League titles and a Champions League crown, and has been one of the best defenders in the Premier League throughout his time at Old Trafford. Despite this, at 32-years old, with continued injury concerns and competition from younger squad members, is it the beginning of the end for Rio?

With Nemanja Vidic an ever-present when available, a number of players will contest the remaining spot at the heart of the Premier League champions rearguard in 2011-12, with the Peckham born man no longer a guaranteed no brainer in selection. With the England international suffering from back and calf injuries in 2010-11, the former West Ham youth player may well be starting to feel his age, which will not be helped by the youthful exuberance waiting in the wings.

Whilst Rio was inconsistent last term and struggled to get a real run in the side, Chris Smalling stepped up the plate and showed just what he is made of. A few eyes were raised when the youngster was signed this time last year for a reported fee of £12 million after only 13 first team appearances for Fulham, but the England under-21 international deputised excellently for Ferdinand when called upon. Tall, physical and cool under pressure, Smalling has a lot of the assets that shot his more senior team-mate to fame ten years prior.

Smalling’s international age-grade defensive partner Phil Jones has joined the club in the summer from Blackburn, and again, despite a lack of substantial top flight experience has shown glimpses of real assurance and all the raw abilities to be a top player. Under the tutelage of the coaching staff at Carrington, the 19-year-old will be given time to mature and develop, but will be chomping at the bit to get first team action as early as possible.

Add to this an almost forgotten man at the club, Jonny Evans, who despite a frustrating 2010-11 through injury, on his day is a top drawer defender. The Northern Ireland international has seemingly been around for a lengthy period of time, but at 23-years old has the guts of his career ahead of him. An able deputy, given an extended chance in the starting XI the Belfast born stopper has the ability to overtake his more senior colleague in Sir Alex’s preferences.

United’s manager has recently stated that the club have the best young centre backs in the country. It may well be a case that the likes of Smalling, Jones and Evans have a large part to play in the defence of the Premier League title, whilst Rio Ferdinand, as noble a patron of the side as he has been, may find opportunities not as forthcoming as in previous seasons.

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