England. France. Sweden. Ukraine. The four teams that will be battling it out in Group D for progression to the quarter-finals and maybe even beyond. The first two sides mentioned are the favourites, but one would be foolish to write off dark horses Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine. It’s a group that is bursting with excitement and drama – here is your step-by-step guide.
11th June: France v England, Ukraine v Sweden
15th June: Ukraine v France, Sweden v England
19th June: England v Ukraine, Sweden v France
For so many years, the England supporters have expected so much of their national side. On some occassions, simply too much. Every major tournament the Three Lions enter, there is an expectancy to do well. To reach the latter stages of the competition.
But this year the mood is different, with a new fresh face at the helm – albeit with the same bunch of players except a few - and an attitude that should suit the squad as they prepare for the Championships. The appointment of Roy Hodgson stunned a few, as Harry Redknapp was the main favourite for such a long period of time following the departure of Fabio Capello.
However, Hodgson has the international pedigree and managerial experience to be able to cope with the magnitude of the tournament and deal with the pressure that goes with the job. England are favourites, as touched on, to finish in the top two of their group with France the only real stand-out rivals. Anything else would be deemed as poor and would resemble the disappointment and lows of the 2012 South Africa World Cup.
The fact that Wayne Rooney will be missing for the first two matches is a big blow as he’s the key striker – and this leaves some heavy weight on young Danny Welbeck’s shoulders. Jack Wilshere, likewise, will be also be a miss. This a chance for the youth to step up, the old guards to prove their worth and the fresh faces to make a mark. England have never won the Euro’s, but will that chance come the end of the Championships?
Under Capello, a solid and effective 4231 system was put in place to utilise the talent in midfielders and at the same time use the lone striker to the maxium potential with the wingers supplying the ammo. Hart is obviously the number one, with the back four picking itself. The midfield is set to include Parker and Lampard who will sit infront of the backline, while skipper Gerrard will drive through the middle with Ashley Young, who was the team’s top scorer in the qualifying rounds, and Theo Walcott providing width and pace on the flanks. Danny Welbeck is expected to start upfront by himself after having an impressive season with Manchester United. In terms of substitutes, Arsenal youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could supply some extra flair and energy into midfield while Manchester City’s Gareth Barry is full of steel and grit in the centre of the park.
Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool midfielder, who will captain the side, still has the taste for international glory and is the figure behind most England attacks. The 31-year-old has been plagued with injuries recently but had a good back end to last season domestically and very few goalkeepers can handle his 30-yard pile-drivers.
The French national side is getting better and better. With the youth players blossoming at just the right time and the old, wiser individuals still in the mix there is cause for optimism ahead of this European Championship, a cup they have won twice.
They’ll be hoping to push on from Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup in South Africa with a new-look squad controlled by former Manchester United defender Laurent Blanc who has a vast knowledge of European football behind him.
Qualifying, however, didn’t prove easy as they just managed to edge past Bosnia to clinch first spot on 21 points. It’s a youthful squad that the French possess, with the likes of Marvin Martin, Oliver Giroud and Adil Rami all yet to really step up to the plate on the international stage but all have the potential to be global stars.
Blanc has reformed the whole structure of the team, with a whole cluster of new faces being added to the squad following the tension built inside the camp in South Africa back in 2010. The French are 14-1 to win the Euro’s according to William Hill, and not too many would doubt them going on to reach the semi-finals at least. In Hugo Lloris, Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema – they have some world class players. It’s their time to shine.
Like England, France use a 4231 formation as they are also blessed with talent in midfield and striking options up top. Hugo Lloris, the captain, is the certain number one with Patrice Evra, of Manchester United, the clear name at the back. Highly rated defensive midfielder Yann M’Vila is set to partner Newcastle’s midfield maestro Yohan Cabaye in the centre behind Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda and of course the ever-dangerous Franck Ribery who will look to cut inside from the left. Upfront, Real Madrid star Karim Benzema – who netted 32 goals and bagged 15 assists in 52 games last season – will be the target man who will run the channels and create. Oliver Giroud, the Montelliper frontman who Arsenal have been linked with, is a good option to bring off the bench while Sochaux playmaker Marvin Martin can make an impact with his eye for goal and link up play with the attackers.
Franck Ribery. The Bayern Munich wing wizard, 29, is in the form of his life. Not only does he enter this tournament with 26 assists and 16 goals under his belt for his club from last season but he also heads into it knowing that he can make a real difference now that his side have some serious firepower upfront. He’ll be a menace and is likely to be seen cutting inside, causing chaos for the opposition.
Sweden did well to qualify as they were in a group consisting of European powerhouse Holland and Hungary among others. Erik Hamren’s side are classed as ‘dark horses’ by many journalists and spectators alike – and it’s been four years since they competed in a major footballing competition.
1992 was the year when Sweden reached the semi-finals of the Euro’s and boy would they love to carry out that very same feat this time around. If the Swedes are to cause any ‘upsets’ or spark off any sort of surprises, then much will rely on Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is the nation’s most well-known and successful player.
Infact, this Sweden team is the best it’s been for some years. It contains a solid backbone with a host of classy players filling up the offensive roles and they are equally as ruthless and strong at the back. Ibrahimovic is the main man, but he’s not the only one with footballing proess. PSV player Ola Toinoven pulls the strings in midfield and Sebatsien Larrson, Johan Elmander plus Martin Olsson all have crucial Premier League experience.
As so many teams do nowadays, Sweden do indeed also operate under a 4231 system. Sweden are a well organised, disiplined outfit who can break at pace on the counter attack and have improved their passing style under former Rosenborg boss Hamren. The full-backs are quick and will look to get forward as much as possible. Meanwhile, in Larsson and Kallstrom they have two very good free-kick takers which could prove a lethal weapon especially with Jonas Olsson’s height. Ibrahimovic is likely to be deployed in a deeper role, this way he’s more involved and Elmander can also feature.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The 30-year-old AC Milan hitman, who converted 8 times in 5 matches in qualifying, is a vital component to the national side. The catalyst for the majority of play, the lynchpin in attack, the engine that never stops. Blessed with excellent vision and technical ability, he’s got a lot to live up to. A hero in his homeland.
A string of injuries have played with the side’s preparation and chances. But to be quite frank, they the chance they have is extremely slim. It would have to take a miracle for Ukraine to edge their way out of the group.
They have been hit with some big injuries to big players at just the wrong time, though, as goalkeeper Andriy Dikan, defender Dmytro Chygrynskyi and veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko are all in doubt. Coach Ole Blokhin has little time to repair the damage and is left with a squad missing several significant players.
Ukraine have infact never proceeded past the group stages, failing every time since their inclusion in 1996. There is some hope, I suppose, as former Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin and Bayern Munich man Anatoliy Tymoshchuk are both fit and are massive figures for the team.
Not to forget their promising, young central defender Yaroslav Rakytskyi who can also fill in as a central midfielder if needs be and probably will now Blokhin has somewhat transformed him into a ballwinning defensive dynamo.. Full of guile, determination and fight. The work ethic and spirit is there – but to put it quite simply they just don’t require the skill or imagination to muster up any type of worthy challenge.
Ukraine use a old fashioned 442 formation, but it’s subject to change as Blokhin enjoys moving it about as he’s used 41 players in 10 friendlies since his arrival. The team is yet to properly gel or blend. Atleast the supporters are assured that Bayern Munich’s Tymoshchuk is guarenteed a starting place as he provides much-needed grit and stays compact in the defensive midfield role. In Husiev and Yarmolenko, they have two top level wingers who can trouble opponents with their trickery and quick feet. And in Milievskyi they have a tall, powerful target man who will supply a physical presence in the final third.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. It used to be Andriy Shevchenko but since he’s faded out and got older, Tymoshchuk – who has earned over 100 caps for his country - has taken over. Defensively minded, solid and experienced. Can also fill in at centre half like in the recent Champions League final. The heart and soul of the side.