After weeks of frenzied anticipation the day has finally arrived, Euro 2012 is ready to kick-off and fill our footballing void for a month.
Everton have plenty of potential representatives in the coming days, with Ireland’s Darron Gibson facing up to Croatia’s Nikica Jelavic on Sunday, while Johnny Heitinga is preparing to occupy the heart of Holland’s defence against Denmark on Saturday.
Everton’s two England representatives – Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines – were not expected to feature prominently in the tournament given they are second choice and England’s participation in the competition is likely to be short-lived.
However, England’s injury curse has struck again and Baines could be in line for a starting place after all.
Reports in the press this morning revealed that first-choice left back Ashley Cole fell ill with a stomach bug. The Chelsea player was due to join the rest of the squad at a civic reception on Thursday night but failed to show, instead being instructed to stay in the hotel and rest.
The FA denied Cole was ill, insisting he was ‘resting’, but if he wasn’t ill, why the preferential treatment?
Should Cole fail to recover in time – and there are only three days until the game against France – then Baines will be the man to slot into the back four. It would be a well deserved reward for another outstanding season from the former Wigan man, though we will all be hoping it doesn’t prod him further into the shop window.
I also think it is worth pointing out that in the recent friendly with Norway three of England’s four defenders were current or former Everton players, signed for a combined total of £13.5million from Wigan, Sheffield United and Wolves. £24million was received for selling Lescott alone, more grand work from David Moyes.
Meanwhile, Everton have announced their initial batch of pre-season friendlies in July and August. The Toffees begin pre-season with a trip up the coast to League Two side Morecambe on Saturday July 14th at 2pm. The match will be a testimonial for Morecambe’s player-manager Jim Bentley, who is also a lifelong Evertonian.
The Blues will then head up to Scotland for two games, against Dundee United on July 18th (7:45pm KO) and Motherwell on Saturday 21st (KO TBC).
The next game to be confirmed is another trip to the seaside to play Ian Holloway’s Blackpool at Bloomfield Road on Sunday August 5th (KO TBC).
You will have noticed that there is a significant gap between the early fixtures and the Blackpool game, with rumours growing of a potential pre-season tour to Indonesia, possibly involving Marseille and Galatasaray. Chief executive Robert Elstone mentioned this to a group of season-ticket holders last month, suggesting that although Moyes was against the idea, the payment was too good to turn down.
There also should be a ‘glamour tie’ against a sizeable European team at Goodison the week before the season starts. We will keep you posted as and when anything is announced.