Gary Lineker: ‘I don’t give us much chance at all’

England football hero Gary Lineker presents the BBC’s coverage of the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine over the next four weeks. He tells What’s On TV what he thinks of England’s chances as the team head for their first game against France on Monday, June 11, and who’s likely to win the tournament…

What’s the atmosphere like in the BBC studio during these big tournaments?

“It’s a mix between having banter and fun and being professional. Remember, we’re trying to entertain people at home as well as merely presenting. Also we’re catering to an audience that’s usually well educated in football and have their opinions so want opinions, tactics and insights given. I’ll be writing some Ukrainian puns to use on air! Or I’ll do my very best to, though they’ll be cringeworthy efforts.”

And when England play?

“I still get very excited when England score a goal. I’ve now turned into a fan if you like. People ask if I have any ambitions left. And I have, I’d love to utter the words on TV that England have won a major championship. It would just be amazing. Even to get to the final would be great for us in the studio. It would also be great for the country and football.”

So how well can England do this time?

“If I’m being honest, I don’t give us much chance at all. We’re in a bit of a transitional phase in terms of players and management. The so-called ‘golden generation’ are mostly past their best. But we’ve got a good crop of young players, where if you look four or six years ahead, you can start to see something. But they’re not quite ready yet.

“At the moment, we’re really light at having world-class players at the prime, which is what you need to win a tournament like this. Also you’ve got to factor in Rooney’s missing the first two games. I’d say Joe Hart is a world-class goalkeeper although he’s still relatively young. After that we’ve got experienced players and a few kids who you hope might do it. It’s a tournament we’ve historically not done well in, with the exception of 1996, which was at home. Apart from that we’ve never even had a sniff of it.”

Could the lower expectations somehow help us this time?

“Maybe the fact everyone thinks we’ve got no chance might work for us in some strange way. Maybe we can be like Greece in 2004 and be the unfancied winners. It’s not impossible I suppose. I’d see success for us as getting out of our group, which is never easy. France Sweden and Ukraine are all difficult.”

Not including the English, who are the best fans – those who bring the most charisma and colour to a tournament?

“The Irish will be very vocal and partying hard, and the Dutch are always fun. Most nations go for it though, and the trouble side of things seems to have subsided and drifted away thankfully. Now it’s like a colourful fiesta.”

What teams are you looking forward to seeing play?

“I love watching Spain, the way they pass it around and have evolved the game. Teams are trying to copy them and keep the ball like them, and their movement is incredible. A wonderful team to watch. They’re definitely my favourites for this tournament. You have to go for them, they’ve won the last two tournaments and I’ve predicted them for the last two so I’m on a roll.

“If anyone does beat them it will be Germany as they’ve also got some wonderful players coming through. Mark Lawrenson is tipping France, so that’s good because that will rule them out. He’s never been right in history.”

And individual players?

“I love watching Ronaldo, he’s wonderful. But Portugal have got a tough group and overall they’ve not got the players some of the other sides have. After that Van Persie’s had a brilliant season so he could shine for Holland. Ozil from Germany is a wonderful footballer, too. I really think we’re going to see some spectacular football.”

Euro 2012 kicks off on BBC1 on Friday, June 8 at 5pm with Poland v Greece. England’s first game is on Monday, June 11 at 5pm against France.