Big championships like these are the occasions when you want to see the big-name strikers turn it on and produce some memorable goals. But if you are looking to have a small wager on the winner of the Golden Boot, you first have to find a team who you believe will go a long way. For my money, predictable as it may seem, that means looking not much further than the Euro 2000 finalists, France and Italy.
The French have David Trezeguet and someone called Thierry Henry, while the Italians will be looking to Christian Vieiri and Francesco Totti to carry the goal burden.
We know plenty about Henry, who likes to operate out on the left, but Trezeguet, who got the winning goal four years ago, is the predominantly central striker, the quintessential fox in the box, to coin a phrase. It makes for a nice mix in styles because Trezeguet will get the poacher’s goals and make the near-post runs that you do not see from Henry, who is more of an all-round player.
Trezeguet and Vieiri are both in the mould of Michael Owen, who also ought to get his share of goals if England qualify for the later stages. And as the host country normally reach the semi-finals — even England managed it in Euro 96 — Portugal’s Pauletta might be worth considering.
Ruud van Nistelrooy will be desperate to get among the goals, too, after missing out on Euro 2000. But he went off the boil a little at Manchester United last season and, as talented as the Holland squad are, can anyone guarantee that they will get together as a team this time' Raul is the darling of the Spanish fans, yet I wonder whether he is just slightly past his sell-by date. You cannot, however, say the same about his team-mate Fernando Morientes, who had a great season at Monaco, where he was on loan from Real Madrid. And I am really looking forward to seeing how the much-talked about Tomas Rosicky does for the Czech Republic, though he is not an out-and-out striker.
The game is not all about forwards, of course, especially when you consider how someone like Zinedine Zidane decorates a game. It is fair to say, however, that any team looking to win the tournament need their main striker to score four or five goals.
The other crucial thing for a side with ambitions to carry off the trophy is to have midfield players who can weigh in with a goal or two, particularly if the specialist forwards are marked out of games. That is a strength for England, whose front six are all capable of scoring, including Paul Scholes, despite that run of three years without a goal for his country. As well as Totti and Vieiri, Italy will expect Alessandro Del Piero, Cristiano Zanetti and Stefano Fiore to weigh in with a few.
As for the French, Zidane, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira will be looking to get their share of goals, though hopefully, they will not start against England on Sunday. This is a fascinating encounter and almost impossible to call. France are probably slight favourites because they have won two of the last three major tournaments and won every qualifying game in getting here, so they will be full of confidence. Having said that, opening games are traditionally cagey and France will be wary of what happened to them in the first game of the World Cup two years ago, knowing that they do not have to beat England to go through as a draw could be good enough for both sides.
A lot has been talked about whether England will use a midfield diamond or a flat four across the middle yet, in my opinion, it does not make a jot of difference. What does matter is what position the four midfield players take up and it seems that even Sven-Goran Eriksson has realised that he cannot play Frank Lampard in the holding role. That would be suicidal.
Lampard is much better as a central player looking to burst forward and he reminds me a lot of my old England team-mate, David Platt, a player who will break and get you vital goals. So that is the most productive role to give him. And now that it seems that Nicky Butt will not, as I had imagined, get a place in the starting line-up, the holding role has to go to Steven Gerrard, otherwise we will get destroyed.
Gerrard has had an outstanding season for Liverpool and he is disciplined enough to hold back. His battle with Vieira should be the most intriguing of the night. Scholes looks like being forced to play out on the left but he is a technically gifted player and quite capable of adjusting, which he proved last weekend against Iceland. Although Beckham has had to revert to his old slot on the right wing, rather than the central position he occupies for Real Madrid, he has played there often enough to understand what is required.
Because France and England are vulnerable defensively, I do not expect it to be the sort of open game we see in the Premiership, although England will not want to sit too deeply. I think Sven will use pretty much the same formation as he used against Iceland. Like a lot of managers, he seems to have stumbled on the best way to play, but thank goodness he managed that seven days before the tournament and not seven days into it.
The Daily Telegraph