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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 12:14 GMT
Why England will win Euro 2008

January is a bleak, depressing month, brightened only by the occasional snowball fight and the fact there are no wasps.

But if you are an English football fan, there is at least some reason to continue living.

The recent steady flow of talented young stars has turned into an veritable torrent, with a new teenage hero seemingly unearthed every week.

A brace by 19-year-old Michael Tonge against Liverpool on Wednesday, while 20-year-old Neil Mellor was scoring at the other end, added two more names to this term's astounding production line of promise.

And future England manager Alan Shearer must be rubbing his sensible hands together in glee at the pot of gold maturing before his very eyes.


Goalkeepers

Chris Kirkland, 21 now, will be the world's finest goalkeeper by 2008, especially after another five years of shot-stopping practice at the back of Liverpool's attack-shy team.

Leeds' Paul Robinson, 23, is unlikely to be far behind his Liverpool rival and the two of them are likely to vie, Shilton-Clemence style, for the number one jersey for many years.


Defence

History has shown that every successful England international team has contained brothers, and Rio and Anton Ferdinand will form the bedrock of Shearer's defence.

Rio will be the team's veteran at 29, but Anton will possess the same assured approach and, let us hope, the same "funky" goalscoring celebrations.

Blackburn's Martin Taylor will be there to mop up when the siblings' rivalry causes them to lose concentration.

Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips will be devastating wing-backs, whose surging runs will leave Italians crying into their capuccinos and Germans blubbing in their bratwursts.


Midfield

This is where England excel, with the maverick talents of Joe Cole and David Dunn backed by the steel and vision of Steven Gerrard.

With Dunn (28 in 2008) and Cole (26 in 2008) possessing maturity and talent, all England need is for Gerrard (27) to end his current run of form which is, unfortunately, rubbish.

All three will be at their peak, and the onlooking David Beckham, who will probably retire from football at 30 to pursue a rock career, will smile in the stands as his successors shine.


Forwards

Everton's teenage superstar Wayne Rooney
Rooney is but part of England's talent avalanche
England will have so much talent up front it will be embarrassing, and other teams may concede games before kick-off to avoid the humiliation on the pitch.

The original odd couple will spearhead the attack - Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen.

Off the field, the pair will fight like dogs, but on the field they will combine to create flowing football poetry which will reduce even the most toughened defenders to mere shells of men.

And to keep them alert, the likes of Liverpool's Neil Mellor, Aston Villa's Darius Vassell, Leeds' James Milner and West Ham's Jermaine Defoe will all be in the prime of their careers.


A warning

No doubt England's rivals will be gnashing teeth at the land of milk and honey awaiting fans of the Three Lions.

But a look back one decade offers hope to those who thrive on England's failure.

When footballers go bad: Under-21 stars of 1993
Neil Ardley
Billy Kenny
Eddie Newton
Scott Minto
Richard Hall
Andy Awford

The England Under-21s side of 1993 does not exactly read like a list of world beaters.

For every Steve McManaman - himself an international disappointment - there is a Billy Kenny, a Neil Cox and a Nicky "Swindon Town" Summerbee.

Perhaps the end to what is rapidly approaching 40 years of hurt is not quite as close as it appears.


Talent of tomorrow

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