London, June 5 (IANS) England suffered a huge blow in their build-up to the European Championships after losing two senior midfielders due to injuries, with no one knowing exactly what to expect from the long-time underachieving favourite this summer.
England are in one of the toughest groups that also has France, Sweden and the co-host Ukraine.
England first were shocked by the sudden departure of manager Fabio Capello, who was later replaced by Roy Hodgson.
Things were worsened for England as main striker Wayne Rooney was first slapped with a two-match ban and then injuries of leading players.
After losing Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, England has only two experienced players in central midfield, who are Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker. The duo will be a leading pair to lead the Three Lions in their classic 4-4-2 formation which has been proved in their final warm-up before the tournament on June 2, beating Belgium 1-0 at Wembley.
The manager Roy Hodgson has clinched two morale-boosting wins in a row after he took the job on May 1.
Both against Norway and Belgium, England seemed prepared to concede to the amount of possession, which was a risky change of strategy as all the leading teams in the world today pay more attention to the midfield control and are apt to 4-5-1 formation.
However, with solid defence and tactical discipline stressed by the new manager, England suggests that they may not be favourite like the past years but also be a tough and pragmatic side to fight for a last-eight berth.
Though losing a leading position in the world after the their humiliating failure and turmoil in South Africa, France, the two-time European champion has gradually turned on a new page under the rebuilding job of Laurent Blanc in the recent two years.
After losing his first Euro qualifier in charge, Blanc coached France to an 18-game unbeaten run including latest win over Germany, which instilled the winning mentality and confidence to the brand new squad.
Following the world's football trend, France is apt to a 4-2-3-1 formation which may help them win the midfield battle against England in the first group match.
The two traditional powers then will resume their long-standing football rivalry and grabbing at least one point will bring a solid start for each side.
Sweden has only one top star but also one undisputed leader Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their trip to Poland and Ukraine in this month.
The 30-year-old, one of the best centre-forwards in the world, has lifted nearly all the big trophies in Europe with the clubs including his current AC Milan, the former played Barcelona, Juventus and other big names.
However, the lofty striker of Sweden has fewer successes in his national side compared to his club triumphs.
This time might be Ibrahimovic's last chance to lead his national side to glory in a major tournament.
Sweden is less hot in the group but still has the strength to upset the favourites as they once kept a 43-year unbeaten run against England only being ended last November.
Ukraine will need a miracle to progress to the quarter-finals as injuries and a lack of promising talents have hampered the co-hosts' chances even if they have home advantages.
As England and France are much stronger opponents, Ukraine need to beat Sweden in the opening match on June 11 to keep their last-eight hope more closer.