So, two major tournament draws a the weekend and two corkers!
Let’s start with Euro 2012. I can’t think of a better line-up for the tournament. England have got the nice balance of a massive game against France, a match with the stronger of the two host nations and a tie with our bogey team. Fabio Capello will walk away fairly happy from Friday’s draw knowing that, on paper, England should be favourites to win the group. However it will need to be a different England to the one who lost against France at Wembley last year because Laurent Blanc’s side look incredibly far removed from the cough and splutter of South Africa 2010.
Should England make it through to the knock-out stages then they can look forward to a tie against regular foes from recent years Croatia, Fabio Capello’s home nation Italy, neighbours Ireland or recently vanquished minnows Spain…If England are going to progress beyond the quarter finals then it will be a huge but not necessarily impossible ask. Ireland on the other hand will need three huge performances to escape the group. Still, Croatia are beatable and expect to see Ray Houghton’s goal from USA 94 a thousand times between now and June. Oh, and Spain? Well just remember the opening game in South Africa and an excellent performance from the Swiss.
The other groups look tasty for different reasons. The prospect of a Germany/Holland game always whets the appetite but throw in Portugal and the team that finished above them in qualifying (and neighbours of Germany) Denmark and it will probably prove the strongest of the four groups. On the other hand, Poland must fancy their chances of success on home soil lining up with Russia, Greece and Czech Republic, arguably the weakest team in each of their respective pots.
Predictions: Germany, Holland, Spain and, very, very optimistically, England in the semis…Holland to win it
And then we had the FA Cup draw, which through up a few ties between top clubs and minnows…Everton & Tamworth, Stoke & Gillingham (good luck lads!), Arsenal & Leeds…Manchester United and Manchester City…
A few years ago that would have been a hearty joke at our smaller neighbours, now we’re looking at a revenge mission in early January. The 6-1 defeat hurt everyone connected to United so expect strong line-ups and a fiery game. Fergie loves the FA Cup and he won’t want to go out at the hands of City for two successive seasons.
The talk will be all about the big Manchester derby but the rest of the draw looks good to. Teams like Cheltenham, Southend, Oldham and Bristol Rovers can all savour the prospect of facing Premier League elite and there’s a couple of cracking derbies thrown in to. I quite fancy Charlton to pull off an upset against an inevitably under-strength Fulham and Paolo Di Canio will be looking forward to hosting Wigan.
My girlfriend asked me yesterday why I was sat watching two men speaking bad English and fiddling around with balls…and then why I watched the FA Cup draw (boom boom!). But it’s these little events and little details that make the season that bit more exciting. Whether you support Manchester United or Macclesfield Town, England or Ireland, what awaits over the coming weeks and months is excitement, anticipation and hope that when all the waiting is over you’ll emerge victorious.