Jones: England can surprise at EUROs
Phil Jones insists England can make a big impact at UEFA EURO 2012. The Manchester United youngster is hoping to make his second international appearance in Saturday's friendly encounter with world champions Spain at Wembley. Jones is one of the youngsters upon whom manager Fabio Capello is pinning his hopes for England to shrug off the weariness that prevented them from showing their true colours at the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa.
While some of Capello's own remarks have been used to portray a pessimistic picture of England's chances of making their mark in Poland and Ukraine, Jones brings with him the optimism of youth. "I don't see why we can't surprise a few people next summer," he said. "We have a great squad, with a great mentality. I am sure we can go there with a great chance of getting to the final stages, if not going all the way."
Not that Jones is dismissing the opposition. Both Spain and Germany have proved themselves to be a class apart over the past few years, while there will be plenty of others who have at least an equal chance of being crowned kings of Europe. "A lot of the teams have got better and stronger as the years have gone by," he said. "But we are still a fantastic team. We have great quality in our side and are able to compete with the best."
Capello has made a conscious decision to introduce a huge number of youngsters to his squad. Jones' Old Trafford team-mates Chris Smalling and Danny Welbeck have already been capped this term and Tom Cleverley only missed out on making his debut when the August friendly with Holland was postponed.
This time around the introductions have come from other clubs, with Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge and Jack Rodwell from Everton called into the senior squad for the first time. "It is brilliant to see players you have grown up with on an international stage come through to the seniors," said Jones of his former under-21 colleagues. "They deserve to be in. Their form for their clubs has shown that. Hopefully they get a chance and prove why they should be here."
Yet there is plenty of experience missing too. In Steven Gerrard's case it is through injury. For Rio Ferdinand it is due to Capello's desire to see the veteran central defender work on his fitness, knowing the task is made harder by Jones' excellent progress since his £17m summer move from Blackburn. "It is surprising Rio is not in the squad," said Jones. "He is a fantastic player and a fantastic leader, with a lot of experience. Hopefully he can push his way back in."
Yet, such is Jones' flexibility that even with the likely absence of skipper John Terry and Phil Jagielka unable to train this morning due to a toe problem, he cannot count on being able to fill his favoured central defensive role. Against Montenegro last month, the Lancashire-born player made his international bow at right-back while this time he is tipped to occupy the midfield holding role he first gained experience of at Blackburn.
"I have no preference about where I play," he said. "It is always nice to test yourself against the best. Wherever I am asked to play, I will. I feel as though I am more than capable of playing right-back, centre-back or central midfield. I have experience in all those positions now."
England goalkeeper Joe Hart believes his Manchester City team-mate David Silva should be a regular member of the Spain side. Hart is enjoying an elongated run as England number one and has played in 11 of the last 12 internationals.
In contrast, Silva struggles to make an impact for the FIFA World Cup holders and, despite his oustanding form for City this season, he will not be an automatic selection. Hart said: "David is a big part of our team on and off the field. We get on really well with him and he is a fantastic player. He has been sensational. It hurts me sometimes when I see the Spain team and he is not in it because I know he is good enough by far.
"I'm pleased at how he is progressing and hopefully it will push him to be a number one starter in the Spanish side. I think he deserves that but he has got some great players around him. I speak to him a lot about Spain because I want to know about the best teams in the world and find out what's going on."