We come to the end of our preview analysis of the groups of the 16 teams taking part in the European Championships with an interesting and varied Group D. In it are two teams with tradition although from different eras, France and England, Sweden who are ready to revive memories of reaching the semifinals in 1992 and the quarter finals in 2004 and a Ukraine team who as well as being co-hosts, take part in their first Euro finals. Everyone would say that France and England have every chance to head to the next phase if it wasn’t football and we weren’t so used to surprises. However, whatever happens, like the other groups, it a more than interesting one to analyse in depth and comment on. So let’s get on with it.
We will start with the French team, who as we said, will need to regain their reputation as soon as possible after their arguments within the dressing room from the World Cup in South Africa 2010. On that occasion, with Raymond Domenech on the bench, they generated rivers of ink for what happened in Africa and any French squad should be part of the select group who can go for glory. They could be one of the candidates in the finals who can get to the final and even win it.
It is now Laurent Blanc who is in charge of the French and they have thrown up some interesting statistics including 17 matches without loss but equally important they have some world class players (for example Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema) who are in good form. Maybe the critics will come out and remind us that they had to wait until the last minute to qualify and only sealed their passage thanks to a draw (1-1) at home to Bosnia. But that’s in the past and now they can rely on a good squad, that they are there and have a real chance to be a good bet at this level when their football can have the last word.
Blanc’s France usually play with a 1-4-4-2 system although it has variations. Sometimes they opt for two strikers who are normally Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud….Other times they play with one striker supported by a high profile player like Samir Nasri. At others they go with a seemingly more offensive 1-4-3-3 with Benzema or Loic Remy who is out of the competition through injury.
However I suspect they may go for a 1-4-2-3-1 at least in their first few matches. They are a squad with excellent individuals, quite quick in all their play and ability to penetrate wide. Maybe on the negative side you could mention their inconsistent play which we have seen, some doubts about their defensive play in some matches, and some deficiencies in team play.
With doubts over the full recovery of Yann M’Vila from the injury he received in a preparation match against Serbia (2-0) and the back problems Benzema has had, it should be noted that in the last friendly against Estonia their attack stood out with players like Jeremy Menez, Ribery and Benzema. We should also say that they have two combative players who are strong and experienced at the back, Adil Rami and Philippe Mexes. Nasri, behind Benzema can shoot from distance and can see a key pass.
Then they also have players like Valbuena, Ben Arfa and the goalscorer Giroud to make changes in any game.
They are one of the two host nations for this Euro. Moreover, they will be in their first Euro finals, although several players and also the coach have been in the finals for the former Soviet Union in the past. Ukraine played their first game as an independent country on 29 April 1992 against Hungary. Since then in their short history their main achievement has been to get to the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup. Since independence, Ukraine haven’t managed to qualify for the Euros and qualified for this in 2008 to take part as hosts in 2012 in front of their own fans. They were not at the World Cup in South Africa.
Oleg Blokhin’s team normally play 1-4-2-3-1 with variations. They work hard and are organised with their lines compact and players in central areas to regain and break quickly in the wide areas. Maybe they are a bit limited technico-tactically.
As for their players of note, we can mention their second striker Oleksandr Aliyev, the striker Artem Milevskiy, the centre back Yaroslav Rakitskiy and the centre midfield player Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. It will also be interesting to see what contribution Andrey Voronin can make although he is not in the starting eleven. His experience, his work rate and his intelligence playing between the lines and arriving late can be a big help to his team and has guaranteed goals.
Being the home side, players like Andrij Shevchenko will be have extra motivation and perhaps it will be his last chance to shine at International level.
The striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s qualities are the focal point of the Swedish team, as he has scored 31 goals, five in their last 10 matches in qualifying, and they got to the Euros as the best second placed team of all the groups. In their group they finished three points behind one of the supposed favourites, Holland. Sweden return to the football elite in these Euros, going through in their last qualifying match with a comeback against the Group E leaders, Holland who hardly played in that match.
As for their system, they alternate a 1-4-4-2 (with Johan Elmander and Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front) with a 1-4-5-1 (which they also vary tactically but always with a common denominator, using only one striker).
This is an interesting squad tactically in the opposition half with their different options (Johan Elmander, Emir Bajrami, Zlatan Ibrahimovic…) in attack, although they also rely on slow defenders in the middle and they are too inconsistent building up play.
Players of note to follow will be definitely Zlatan Ibrahimovic then Johan Elmander, Rasmus Elm, Kim Kallstrom, Pontus Anders, Mikael Wernbloom, Ola Toivonen…
What everyone seems surprisingly agreed on, including us, is that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the key piece, his moment, his capability, his match….Everything revolves round him, or at least it seems so, The rest will then complement him but the keystone is the player with the Bosnian passport. In any case, we can see Sweden as a tremendously compact side, organised who won’t exactly be easy to beat.
Finally and after everything that has been said about other possible candidates, Roy Hodgson will lead England in this Euro tournament. They are a squad returning to this competition after their disastrous 2008 campaign where they failed to go through. It looks as though they are not giving up, not even on going for glory again after their not too distant past of being a permanent candidate to win the trophy or even the World Cup.
What to take in to account is that they finished top of their group and were unbeaten with an obvious inherent competitive spirit and with players famous in world football, and this gives them positive hope. But the main problem may be that they are missing Wayne Rooney through suspension for the first two matches. This suspension makes the game against France absolutely crucial as to how they manage the rest of the team selections in their other matches in Group D.
Hodgson likes to play 1-4-4-2 but in the friendly against Norway (0-1) he played with Ashley Young behind Andy Carroll in a 1-4-2-3-1. The Danny Welbeck option up front can’t be ruled out given the mobility of the young player from Manchester United and the strength of the French team, which may make Hodgson strengthen the English midfield. On the wings, England have ability and pace, and it will be interesting to see if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has enough game time to show what he can do as I think he doesn’t hide.
Another option I like is that Steven Gerrard can play just behind the striker whoever that is, in a free role for the Liverpool player, benefiting from his runs from the second line.
Another issue to consider will be how some of the squad are physically after a long season in England.
Theoretically, one of the strongest points of the squad would be their ability at set plays, especially if Andy Carroll is on the pitch and he has chances to finish.
As for the injuries, after the withdrawal of Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, the English squad has had a couple of reverses for Euro 2012. Gary Cahill couldn’t take part because of a fractured jaw so another Liverpool player comes in, Martin Kelly.