Home > Football > Euro 2012 Preview: Group D

Euro 2012 Preview: Group D

Group D contains perennial underachievers England, the enigma that is France, a useful Sweden side and a Ukraine team hoping to be carried forward by fervent home support. This group lacks a clear favourite and so should provide plenty of entertainment.

England

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Captain: Steven Gerrard

Star Player: Wayne Rooney

England always attract much attention heading in to major tournaments and this time is no exception. They head in to the tournament with a new manager and several new faces and so expectation back home is about as subdued as it has been for any competition since the Graham Taylor era.

England’s preparations for the championships have been disrupted by a string of injuries to key players. Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and Gareth Barry have all been forced to withdraw through injury and have been replaced by less experienced players in the form of Jordan Henderson, Phil Jagielka and Martin Kelly. Roy Hodgson is new to the job and so probably still does not know what his strongest eleven is and if he had some idea, it has been ruined by these injuries. Furthermore, there are question marks over the fitness of John Terry and Jermain Defoe has temporarily left the camp following the death of his father. The omission of Rio Ferdinand has caused uproar inEngland, with many believing he has been left out for non-footballing reasons (squad member John Terry faces a criminal trial for reportedly aiming racial abuse at Ferdinand’s brother Anton) and this has threatened to overshadow the football.

 

England will be hoping they stay in long enough for Wayne Rooney to make an impact (This image is the property of The Press Association)

England were more or less convincing in qualifying, winning five and drawing three games. They scored 17 goals and conceded only five in a group that included Montenegro and Switzerland. What was impressive was that, unlike many other teams, England were not reliant on a particular player. Defoe, Rooney and Ashley Young scored three each, whilst Adam Johnson and Frank Lampard scored two a piece. However, Rooney is suspended for the first two games and Johnson and Lampard are not in the squad.

 

Rooney’s suspension could really hurt England as they have limited options up front. Following his father’s passing, Defoe is unlikely to be ready for the first match, which is, on paper, the most difficult (France) and Andy Carroll is going in to the tournament having had a poor season for Liverpool. Rooney’s Manchester United teammate Danny Welbeck is talented but still somewhat raw and I just wonder whether too much will be asked of the 21 year old in what is his first experience of a major tournament. England lack creativity, with Ashley Young the main hope in that regard, and there are question marks over a back four that includes an out-of-form Terry and a much maligned Glen Johnson.

Joe Hart, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney bring an element of world-class quality to the squad and all in all, I feel England will be well organised and have enough ability to make it through what is a fairly tough group.

Sport Report Verdict: Group runner-up

France

Manager: Laurent Blanc

Captain: Hugo Lloris

Star Player: Karim Benzema

I believeFrance may just be the team that people have slept on. Nobody is really talking about them heading in to the tournament, but they have plenty of quality in the shape of players like Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Yann M’Vila.

France’s detractors point to the fact that they did not pull up any trees during qualifying (they won just six out of ten games) and their recent record of ill-discipline and internal squabbling. However, the fact that they are on a 20 game unbeaten streak cannot be ignored and Laurent Blanc seems to have created a sense of unity within a squad that just two years ago famously went on strike.

Star striker Karim Benzema has a point to prove having been omitted from the World Cup squad in 2010 and is coming off an extremely impressive season for Real Madrid. The 24 year old scored 32 goals for the Spanish champions last season and, more importantly, performed consistently at such a high level that he was often preferred to Gonzalo Higuain. Franck Ribery had a superb season for Bayern Munich and has scored in all three of France’s warm-up games, whilst Samir Nasri is capable of unlocking any defence with his trickery and eye for a pass.

 

Karim Benzema will be France’s main goal threat (This image is the property of transeet.fr)

Rennes midfielder M’Vila is struggling with an ankle injury and looks doubtful for at least the England game but should he pull through, will prove to be an important cog in the French machine. The 21 year old has impressed with his athleticism and reading of the game this season and is reportedly a target for several top clubs. Blanc will be hoping that his key midfielder is fit but it is clear to see that the French have plenty of quality in the squad.

The game against England should decide the group and I expect France to win narrowly and therefore qualify as group winners.

Sport Report Verdict: Group winners

Sweden

Manager: Erik Hamren

Captain: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Star Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Sweden impressed during qualification, finishing second to the Netherlands in group E. The Swedes won eight and lost two, including an impressive 3-2 victory over Bert van Marwijk’s men in Solna. Like England’s qualification campaign, it was very much a team effort. Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted five times, Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson and Christian Wilhelmsson all scored three, whilst Johan Elmander, Andreas Granqvist, Martin Olsson, Ola Toivonen and Pontus Wernbloom all found the net twice.

This epitomises Sweden as a team. Ibrahimovic is the star man and will be the man they look to to lead their charge, but after him, it is a very much a team of very capable, very hard working players. Larsson has proved in the Premier League that he can score and make goals. In fact, there may not be a player with better set piece delivery on show in Poland and Ukraine. Ola Toivonen and Johan Elmander are talented strikers who will be competing for a slot alongside Ibrahimovic. Kallstrom and Wilhelmsson bring goals from midfield, as well as a great deal of experience. This is something also brought to the squad by the likes of Olaf Mellberg and Andreas Isaksson. Martin Olsson brings real quality and youth to the back four and so on the face of it, Sweden has a very well-balanced team.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be eager to prove himself at a major tournament (This image is the property of Getty Images)

They do go in to the tournament as something of an underdog team as they have been drawn in the same group as England and France. Neither of those teams is known for always delivering when it matters and so Erik Hamren’s men are very much a live underdog. If France and England are not at their best, Sweden will qualify. I however expect that they will be and so I think that Sweden will be one of the strongest teams heading home after the first round.

Sport Report Verdict: Group stage elimination

Ukraine

Manager: Oleh Blokhin

Captain: Anatoliy Tymoschuk

Star Player: Artem Milevskiy

Ukraine will be eager to impress on home soil but if truth be told, they will have pulled off a minor miracle if they find themselves playing knockout football.

 

Artem Milveskiy has ability can he deliver for the hosts? (This image is the property of AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s greatest ever footballer, Oleh Blokhin, is now in his second spell as manager of the national team and in both terms, he has focussed his attention on making them a compact and difficult team to break down. They have therefore, won many games by a solitary goal. In my opinion, this team is not as defensively solid as the side that Blokhin led to the World Cup quarter final in 2006, despite the presence of talented defenders like Yaroslav Rakitskiy and Yevhen Khacheridi. There are also talented creative players in Oleksandr Aliyev and Artem Milevskiy. Both are also capable of finding the net, but are also notoriously temperamental and inconsistent. There is also great experience with Andriy Voronin, Anatoliy Tymoschuk and, of course, Andriy Shevchenko all present. However, Shevchenko is not the player he was five or six years ago and this will probably be the end of his international career. The likes of Milevskiy, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Marko Devych will therefore need to deliver in front of goal if the host nation is to have any chance of qualifying.

 

As is the case with Poland, Ukraine qualified automatically as hosts and so have not played competitive football for nearly two years. They have however played plenty of friendlies, many against strong opposition. They have lost their last two warm up games against Austria and Turkey, although they did beat Estonia4-0 last week. There have also been wins against Israel and Austria, as well as a draw against Germany so their form is far from disastrous.

I do however, feel that they have been drawn in a group with three stronger teams and therefore I think they will finish bottom of the group.

Sport Report Verdict: Group stage elimination

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