A rivalry to relish
It would be great to see England go head-to-head with the Republic at Euro 2012, says Jeff Stelling.
Last Updated: 17/11/11 3:20pm
I wouldn't put my mortgage on England beating Spain in Euro 2012.
In fact I won't put one penny of my mortgage on it, should the teams meet.
But the friendly victories over Spain and Sweden do suggest that England are making progress and that constructive change is in the air.
While it wasn't aesthetically pleasing to see 10 men behind the ball for a lot of the game against Spain, it did the trick and at the end of the day the way to go is to win games.
There have been many successful club teams over the years that have won titles playing less expansive football than their chief rivals.
In days gone by Arsenal and Liverpool were criticised - often unfairly - for being a bit one-dimensional but it didn't seem to matter when they were winning titles. You might say the same about Greece at Euro 2004.
So while it was a bit of a shock to see England play that way at Wembley, I can understand why Fabio Capello tailored his team to play that way against the World Champions.
Of course, had they lost 1-0 playing that way then it would have been an entirely different story.
Call me an optimist, but I'd say England's future is looking relatively rosy.
Yes, Spain don't have a great record in friendlies and undoubtedly can raise their game another gear or two, but a lot of sides would take England's last two results, particularly given the absence of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Young.
In footballing terms, the team seems to be evolving pretty rapidly.
Who would have thought that Phil Jones would be such an important part of the England set-up already or that Scott Parker, left out for last year's World Cup, would be an indispensable player?
Stewart Downing hasn't done it for England too often but I thought he was absolutely exceptional in the first half against Sweden.
Capello seems to have a lot more options at his disposal and appears much more minded to explore them, the selection of Kyle Walker and Jack Rodwell being a case in point.
Don't get me wrong - there will be no pushovers at Euro 2012 - but generally speaking it has been a fairly good few days for England and we should enjoy them.
The only downside was that the FA missed a massive trick when it came to ticket-pricing for the Sweden game.
I heard a guy from the FA on the radio on the afternoon of the game, who said that the family enclosure tickets (two adults, two children for £60) had sold out. That's great and as it should be.
But when he was asked whether ticket prices would be cut to fill the rest of the stadium (for the record, 48,876 fans turned up), he said that tickets at £45 for adults and children for £40 were competitively priced.
I've got three kids. If I'd wanted to take them along, that would have cost me £165 before I'd factored in travel, food and programmes.
I thought the FA's stance was incredibly short-sighted. Those prices could have been axed in the last few days and many more people would have turned up, filled the stadium and given it an atmosphere. Those fans might have even wanted to go back again.
Football League clubs cut their prices if, for example, they've got a less than attractive Carling Cup game to sell but for some reason the FA thought that was beyond them.
Watching England play at Wembley is still a huge draw, even in these times of economic hardship, but only at the right price.
Republic of Ireland fans can now officially start saving for Euro 2012 and I for one am delighted that their team will be in Poland and the Ukraine next summer.
Chris Kamara and I went to the 2002 World Cup and the best nights were the ones out with the Irish fans, particularly when their team had been playing.
Those nights tended to turn into mornings; the fans were always wonderfully humoured and I'm sure they will be exactly the same in Poland and Ukraine.
So I'm very, very pleased for them particularly after Thierry Henry's infamous handball in that World Cup play-off match in Paris.
The team has put in some great performances in qualifying, none more so than the 0-0 draw in Russia where defensively they were nothing short of heroic - Richard Dunne in particular.
Dunne encapsulates everything about the Irish team. I often think he's a better player at international level than he is in the Premier League but he will give every last drop for the cause, which is typical of the squad as a whole.
People criticise Giovanni Trapattoni, saying his style of play isn't expansive enough, but it has done the job and that's what counts.
I noticed that the Italian, ever the opportunist, immediately asked for an extension to his contract and you can't blame him for wanting to negotiate from a position of strength.
But if I was a member of the board that decides these things I'd be saying 'let's just see how we decide these things first' and take it from there!
It's almost inevitable that England and the Republic of Ireland will end up in the same group when the Euro 2012 draw is made on Sky Sports News on December 2 - and wouldn't that be just fantastic?
Finally, I'd like to say 'good luck' to Nick Hewer - my replacement on Countdown.
I met Nick for the first time around a month ago and found him a very engaging, charming man who possesses a sharp humour and is also a good listener.
If, as I'm led to believe, he continues to work on The Apprentice as well as host Countdown his stamina will definitely be put to the test but I get the feeling he's used to challenges!
Countdown is a fantastic show and I wish Nick well.
Join Jeff and the gang for Soccer Saturday this weekend at 12pm on Sky Sports News HD, channel 405.