Martin Smith: I'm no Euro sceptic ... but my real interest lies in what's happening at the Brit
IT'S fair to say there was a fair amount of negativity ahead of England's first game at Euro 2012, so those of us who actively support the national team will have been delighted by the 1-1 draw with France in Donetsk on Monday.
The joy comes not from avoiding defeat to our rivals across the English Channel, one of the favourites for the tournament, but rather in the manner in which England played.
There is a lot to build on for Roy Hodgson and his men because the expected gulf in class between the two teams just wasn't apparent.
The new England manager must be feeling pretty pleased at the moment, confident of making it through to the quarter-finals.
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The former Fulham and West Brom boss has had his detractors since taking charge of the national team last month, especially over his baffling decision to pack his squad with apparently average Liverpool players.
Perhaps it's no surprise that just two of the Liverpool Six – skipper Steven Gerard and full-back Glen Johnson – actually started the game, while midfielder Jordan Henderson only figured briefly towards the end, thus avoiding more media scrutiny of their worth to the squad.
While Gerrard is a superb England player, I'd still like to hear a coherent explanation from Hodgson as to why so many of his team-mates were on the plane to Poland and Ukraine.
Young full-back Martin Kelly isn't even a household name in his own home, while Henderson has struggled to justify the £20m Liverpool paid for him last summer.
Then there's Stewart Downing, another big-money recruit who finished the last Premier League season without a single goal or assist, despite his role as a supposedly creative wide man.
Andy Carroll, of course, must surely have done the least of any English striker in history to be selected for a major tournament, so depriving Stoke City's Peter Crouch of a possible place in the sun.
As a City fan, I'm still outraged – and perplexed – that Carroll got the nod over Crouch, who performed so well to score 14 goals from the meagre service he received in his lonely forward role last season.
Of course, it's the old, old story for Stoke City players who have warranted England recognition, but missed out.
The likes of John Ritchie, Jimmy Greenhoff, Garth Crooks and Howard Kendall all enjoyed glittering careers, yet didn't win a single senior England cap between them.
But we've always had to live with the tag of being an unfashionable club, and that's unlikely to change.
Despite their diminishing presence as a true powerhouse of English football, Liverpool continue to retain the mystique which persuades managers like Hodgson to continue picking their most mediocre talents for the national team.
Let's just hope there is sufficient talent in the England ranks to build on the draw against France to reach the knockout stages ... even if that does mean a probable meeting with defending champions Spain in the quarter-finals.
One team who are going to find it very tough to make an impact now are the Republic of Ireland. With two Stoke players in their ranks – Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters – there were a lot of City fans wishing them well.
But they came up badly short in their opening game against Croatia, suffering a 3-1 defeat on Sunday when they had to win to have any realistic hope of making it through their group.
With games against Spain and Italy still to come, it looks to be from an entirely selfish point of view, that's no bad thing for Stoke as it will give Whelan and Walters more time to be fully rested before a daunting pre-season campaign begins on July 2.
Euro 2012 will prove a distraction for most Stoke fans while there is no domestic action, but Monday's release of next season's Premier League fixtures will start to whet the appetite.
Then it's little more than a month before our three-match tour of the United States kicks-off on July 24 with a match against Columbus Crew in Ohio.
Throw in speculation about who will, or will not, be joining us this summer, and the excitement is already building.
Tony Pulis said this week that he expects our next campaign to be one of our toughest so far in the Premier League, so we'll all be keen to see how we intend to approach it.
Following England abroad is all very well, but for those of us who place our club allegiance above our country it is only a distraction.
The far more important is what's going on at Stoke City as we prepare for what could be a make or break seasons.