‘Squeaky metatarsal time’ for stars six weeks out from Euro 2008

Two years ago (well, actually it was April 29, 2006) England’s chances of winning the World Cup went splat. Or should that be crack!

I’ll always remember where I was when, amid Chelsea’s second consecutive Premiership celebrations at Stamford Bridge, Man United striker Wayne Rooney chased a lost cause in the penalty area and went down painfully under the challenge of Ricardo Carvalho.

United were 3-0 down and to all intents and purposes there was no point risking injury with the silverware gone and a very important summer’s international football looming. But it isn’t Rooney’s nature to hold back – at least it wasn’t then – and the ensuing diagnosis of his broken metatarsal ruined my bank holiday weekend.

The rest, as they say, is history. He did come back and stamp his footprint on the World Cup (and all over Carvalho’s tackle), but England’s staccato performances without a fully-fit talisman up front had already convinced the world that the Three Lions were heading back down the Yellow Brick Road without what they’d come for.

Oddly enough, picking up an injury that would rule him out of Euro 2008 is not a concern for Rooney this summer – or five of his United colleagues who are all going flat out for the Premiership finishing line with no thought of saving a bit for June.

But what of the other big names around Europe ? Spare a thought for those who have already been ruled out of their countries’ plans by injury.

Eduardo (Croatia) is gone, Ruud van Nistelrooy (Holland) is back in training – but has he rushed back again like 2001 ? And who knows what sort of form Tomas Rosicky (Czech Republic) can get himself back into as he battles the injury curse.

Are players already pulling out of tackles to preserve their fitness for the finals ? Does this explain why Manchester United and Chelsea (each with more England players than Arsenal) are fighting out for trophies while the Gunners are licking their wounds ?

I’m already getting excited about the tournament and with my flights booked (prior to England’s failure) am ready to party with the rest of Europe minus the worry of scrambling for tickets or avoiding troublemakers who make it tough to be English abroad.

Euro 2008 betting-wise, I am ranking Spain, Italy and Portugal among my ‘five or six’ who have the most quality in the tournament. But after what happened in Portugal four years ago, I wouldn’t rule out 11 of the squads from taking the trophy in what looks like quite an open championships.

It looks quite open and I’m sure there will be just as much interest in the changing tactical fashions, set piece innovations and star names ready to make names for themselves on the international stage – so how could you ignore it ?

That’s unless your name’s Wayne and you’ve got a wedding to plan for!

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