Having scraped through the qualifying phase with a 2-1 aggregate victory
over Scotland it would seem England should be considered as outsiders to
lift the trophy. This is especially true when the chronic lack of left-sided
players in the squad is taken into account. Perhaps, however, all is not as
it seems.

The draw has been fairly kind to England with none of the three
opponents expected to go far in the tournament. Germany are weak,
weaker than they have been for sometime and this time have a real chance
to avenge previous European Championship and World Cup defeats.
Portugal and Romania are unproven, they arrive from the same qualifying
group where they took advantage of the lack of quality to lose just one
game between them, when Romania went to Portugal and won 1-0.

Added to this relatively favourable draw are a number of good signs
regarding the fitness and form of some key players. Defensive lynchpin
Tony Adams is as fit as he has been for some time and should find himself
at the heart of England's rearguard. A particular bonus comes in the form
of Steve McManaman, in great form for Real Madrid, who have reached
the Champions League final in part due to the Liverpudlian's improved
and more controlled style of play. Although Michael Owen and Robbie
Fowler have both suffered injury plagued seasons at Liverpool, Sunderland
striker Kevin Phillips has blossomed and there is no reason to believe he
won't be given a chance to shine in pre-tournament friendlies after his 30
goal debut season in the Premier League. Despite the fact that Chelsea's
Graeme LeSaux is left footed, his absence from Keegan's provisional 28
man squad has supporters up and down the country rejoicing - this due to
the fact that most fans don't rate him at all.

Keegan has several decisions still to make about his starting eleven. It is
assumed that David Seaman will retain the number one jersey despite
struggling this season and being outperformed by Leeds United's Nigel
Martyn. Past this, nobody is quite sure whether Keegan will go 4-4-2 or
3-5-2. Adams, if he retains his fitness, will play. Keown and Campbell are
the other centre-backs expecting a place though one will drop to the bench
if Keegan opts for a 4-4-2 formation. Another option is to drop the recently
unimpressive Gary Neville to the bench and use Campbell as an orthodox
right back as was the case in the playoff against Scotland.

In midfield so many questions demand an answer- but does Keegan know
the answers? Beckham plays. Whether it's on the right of a four, as a
wingback, or in the middle is uncertain - but he plays. Joining him is likely to
be his Manchester United teammate Paul Scholes who fills a central
midfield role. In the absence of David Batty there could be a spot available
for a ballwinner. Paul Ince, Dennis Wise and Steven Gerrard will fight for
this position with Gerrard my preferred choice but Keegan may go for one
of the more experienced options. Phil Neville and Jason Wilcox will be
hoping to appear on the left, both can play either defence or midfield, which
makes it interesting. McManaman should book a place in the starting line up
but this is far from being a formality.

Up front Shearer is still not sure who he will play with, but it is
unlikely to be Andy Cole. The Liverpool trio of Heskey, Fowler and Owen
are all well liked by the England coach but Phillips could still force his way
into the team. Whatever team Keegan picks it seems that at least one
player will be out of position be it Campbell, Beckham or McManaman.
Whoever takes the field for England should be good enough to take them
out of the group stages but beyond that few England fans are confident
due to the manner in which they qualified, unable to beat a competent
Sweden and losing at Wembley to the Jocks.


Tony Adams - The inspirational Arsenal skipper has never been known to
let England down and the country will be hoping he's not about to start now.
Despite never playing in a World Cup Adams has bucketloads of experience
and is regarded by many as the man who should be England's captain.

David Beckham - Now firmly established as England's golden boy it is
important he supplies the crosses for Alan Shearer and even more
important that he doesn't repeat his antics from the Argentina game in
1998. His prowess from set pieces could also provide vital goals in
England's challenge.

Alan Shearer - The skipper is a key figure in any team, especially when he
also happens to be his country's leading striker. His goal to game ratio is
impressive and he won't be phased by the big occasion as he
demonstrated in Euro '96 by finishing as top scorer. He has vowed to
retire from international football after the tournament which will give him
any extra motivation he wants.

Jonathan Agnew