Euro 2012: Day 12 Predictions

France Vs. Sweden:

The simple equation for France is that they will not only qualify for the quarter-finals but will also top the group and receive a ‘preferential’ draw for the next round if they better England’s result against the Ukraine.

Benzema and Menez France

If France are to top the group and become a real threat at the Euros Karim Benzema will have to back up his decent performances with some goals

One might be forgiven for thinking that this should be a simple task given the fact the Sweden are already guaranteed to go no further in the competition and that they have lost both of their opening two games of the tournament. However, on numerous occasions we have seen sides in similar positions in major tournament football produce courageous performances in their final game when the pressure has been lifted from their shoulders.

In fact, last night’s performance from Ireland is a very good example as they played with tremendous heart and at times looked like getting something out of their game against an Italian side that needed all three points to have a a chance of progressing to the quarters.

Ireland may ultimately have lost the match as they had their first two games of the tournament but Sweden will surely be determined to produce a similar level of performance and to avoid going out with a wimper when things could have been so different had they not relinquished leads against both the Ukraine and then England.

I think France will win the game but I think Sweden will make them work for it. I think the final score will be 2-1 to the French with Karim Benzema to open his goal scoring account for the tournament.

 

Ukraine Vs. England:

For England’s third and final group game they know that they must avoid defeat to confirm their qualification to the quarter-finals and that they have to better France’s result against Sweden if they want to top the group and play Italy rather than Spain in the next round.

Rooney and Walcott Euro 2012

Rooney and Walcott look set for their first starts of the tournament

Standing in England’s way is a Ukranian side who they will be well advised not to under-estimate as they too could also go through to the quarters if they get a result and they could even top the group against all the odds if both results went their way on the final day of Group D.

Up to this point England have managed to get two very decent results and have placed themselves in a strong position going into the Ukraine game but neither of their two performances have inspired a great deal of confidence. They have shown great heart and resilience in both games but against France they were pinned right back onto the back foot for the bulk of the game and against Sweden they may have demonstrated more offensive ambition and ultimately have found the necessary killer instinct, but where they had done so well at the back against France they switched off to give Olof Mellberg two free headers for his brace which momentarily had England trailing.

Having struggled to find the right balance in their opening two matches, England will be delighted to have come out of these two opening games with four points to their name and they will today be welcoming their best player back into the fold as Wayne Rooney returns from his two match suspension.

As well as Rooney being included most are expecting Roy Hodgson to opt for Theo Walcott on the right wing after his match-winning performance having come off of the substitutes bench against the Swedes. With these two restored to the starting line-up England will have a much more naturally offensive look about their team and I think this is the right way to go against the Ukraine who have looked a little frail at the back and when taking into account that they need to outdo whatever the French manage against Sweden in order to win the group.

I think that  Rooney will come charging out of the blocks and will make up for lost time by scoring at least one goal in an England victory. I think the final score will be something like 3-1 but as it is England expect there to be a few twists and turns thrown in to put us fans right through the full spectrum of emotions.

Euro 2012: Day 8 Predictions

France Vs Ukraine:

In the opening game France were undoubtedly the side dictating the play against England but they did seem to lack real drive and creative ability in the middle of the park. This is a problem which needs to be sorted very quickly if they are to fulfil their ambitions at this tournament, as the likes of Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema were forced to drop deep on too many occasions which meant that the French struggled to make real inroads into the heart of the English defence in spite of their possessional and territorial superiority.

Shevchenko Ukraine

Andriy Shevchenko re-captured some of the old magic against Sweden and will need to be even more clinical against the French

It is arguable that the Ukranian defence will present greater openings for the French to take advantage of than England afforded them  but still the French must focus on using the ball more effectively and supplying their more dangerous players with greater opportunities to harm the opposition.

France’s opponents on Friday are the co-hosts Ukraine who pulled off one of the results of the first round when they defeated Sweden by two goals to one in Kiev. Inspired by their ageing talisman Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine managed to fight back from a goal behind and in doing so proved that they may well do better than people expected them to.

In addition to Shevchenko it was Ukraine’s young attacking midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko that caught the eye for the co-hosts  in their opening victory. He looked strong, full of energy and technically very sound when crossing from wide positions. If the Ukraine are to push for qualification to the latter stages of the competition then he will surely be key to their hopes and France and England must both be wary of the threat that he poses.

Even though I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the co-hosts in the opening game they did seem constantly troubled by the presence of Sweden’s real world-class talent Zlatan Ibrahimovic and I think they will struggle to keep the French at bay as they possess more than just one major attacking threat. I think France will win this game 3-1 and will put themselves in a very decent position in the group.

England Vs. Sweden:

Whilst England will be fairly pleased with their first performance of the Euros, today’s opponents Sweden will be more than a little irritated with their own progress to date.

Carroll Welbeck

If England do opt for two front-men then Carroll and Welbeck could cause the Swedish back four some real problems

The Swedes performance in the 2-1 loss to the Ukraine was very disappointing and it is of no real surprise that there are rumours circling of division in the camp in the wake of such a disorganised outing against a side who they will feel they should have beaten.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic for long periods of the game seemed the only player in the Sweden side capable of causing any damage at all but even he was a little wasteful at times and at the back their experienced campaigners Olof Mellberg and Andreas Granqvist appeared as if they had under-estimated and were ill-prepared for the threat posed by Andriy Shevchenko in terms of his movement and his aerial ability.

It is this lack of defensive organisation which will excite England the most going into the second game of the tournament as their side is likely to be packed with players capable of causing the Swedish defence a lot of problems in the air.

It sounds as if England are going to opt for two front men in this game with Andy Carroll expected to take the place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whose likely omission will mean that Ashley Young will switch to a wider role on the left. I for one think that this switch in formation is a sensible one going into the game against Sweden given their apparent weaknesses in defence and if Ashley Young and James Milner can provide decent service from the wings then Danny Welbeck and Carroll should have plenty to feed off of.

I think England will win the game 2-0 and will sit joint top of Group D with France come the end of today.

Euro 2012 Group D: How will Roy’s boys fare in their testing group?

England:

The past five years have been very tough for the English national side in the wake of their failure to qualify for the Euros in 2008 and their dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup when handed a very favourable looking group draw but with a new man at the helm England will be hoping for greater success, stability and continuity.

Hodgson and Gerrard England

New manager Hodgson and new captain Steven Gerrard are hoping to lead by example

Given the disappointments of recent times, their performances and results throughout the qualification for Euro 2012 must have gone some way towards restoring some lost confidence and were deserving of a fair amount of credit. It was of course Fabio Capello who lead England throughout this process but perhaps his departure was for the best for England and for Capello himself as the English public, media and even some of the national team players never really warmed to the Italian.

In charge of England now is Roy Hodgson who has already been the target of some pretty unfair criticism just for being appointed as boss but the fact of the matter is that Hodgson is a wily old fox and will have been prepared for the glare of the media and some of the negative criticism that has come his way. Roy is a man who lives and breathes football and being a proud Englishman will realise that English fans are amongst the most passionate in the world and that sometimes this passion will spill into the realms of harshness and irrationality.

In spite of Hodgson’s critics and the slightly stand-off-ish nature of their two performances under his guidance to date, England have won both of their games since Hodgson took charge of the side and Roy will head into the Euros pleased with the fact that he has a 100% record as England manager. Probably the major concern for Hodgson heading into the tournament is the late losses of the experienced Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard and the talented Gary Cahill to injury, all of whom had a genuine chance of making Roy’s starting line-up against France next week.

One to watch… Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Since Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger opted to give ‘The Ox’ a run in their first team the winger-come-attacking-central-midfielder has developed at a frightening pace. The really impressive thing about him as a young player taking his first major steps into top level professional football is that he seems not only to be un-phased by the big occasion but that he appears inspired by such scenarios. If given the chance to impress I could see him having a similar impact to Wayne Rooney in Euro 2004.

Euros nostalgia: In 1996 England hosted the European Championships and they were denied a place in the final and quite possibly their first major tournament victory since 1966 by Germany who out-witted and out-nerved them in a penalty shoot-out. Gareth Southgate’s failed attempt to score from the spot will live painfully long in the memory for all England fans. Cue the following classic Pizza Hut advert…

Tournament prospects: Given the difficulty of their group some might argue that England would do well to make it into the last eight. If they were to progress through the group via a second placed finish then an intimidating tie against Spain could lie in wait in the quarters…

France:

The past fifteen or so years have seen the French become arguably one of the most maverick and most frustrating sides in international football game. Having won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000 France looked set for an era of dominance but since then their major tournament success has been horribly inconsistent.

Benzema and Ribery

Benzema and Ribery are both magnificent players but have both struggled with inconsistency

In 2002 France made an embarrassing first-round exit when defending the World Cup, in 2004 they lost out in the quarter-finals when defending their European crown, in 2006 they defied most people’s expectations of them in reaching the final only to lose out on penalties, in 2008 they were again left embarrassed as they failed to get out of their group and worst of all in 2010 they collapsed into a state of mutiny and were again eliminated in the group stage.

This time around though some peace seems to have been brought to proceedings in the French camp and their squad is packed full of young and precocious talents and it is in attack where they look most exciting. They are likely to opt for Karim Benzema up front with the likes of Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez and Hatem Ben Arfa likely to provide the support on the flanks. Each of the aforementioned players have on occasion failed to live up to the hype that has preceded them in both domestic and international football and each of them will be keen to prove their doubters wrong.

One to watch… Frank Ribery: There are several very exciting players in the French squad going into the Euros including many players in their infancy as international footballers but my ‘one to watch’ is Ribery who is arguably their greatest example of a player who has struggled to live up to his own billing on the biggest stages in world football. At times Ribery can look like the most threatening and technically able wide-man in world football but up until now he has too often had his threat negated by teams who have put thought into how to stop him and he, his club sides and the French national side have paid the price.

Euros nostalgia: France have twice won the tournament, their first triumph was in 1984 where UEFA President Michel Platini was their captain and then their second European Championship win came in 2000 courtesy of an extra-time winner from David Trezeguet.

Tournament prospects: As ever it is almost impossible to know how this tournament will go for the French. If their inexperienced players grasp their opportunities and adapt quickly to the requirements of major international football then they could well be set for a long run this summer but if not then another embarrassment could be on the cards. I think they will at very least get through the group and progress to the knock-out stages.

Sweden:

Sweden may not appear to have quite as good a squad as England or France heading into the Euros but it does contain some very experienced players. One of these veterans is Zlatan Ibrahimovic who as well as providing leadership and inspiration will also try and provide the flair, imagination and world-class conviction needed to mount a challenge towards progression from the group stages.

Ibrahimovic Sweden

Zlatan has become well renowned for epitomising the term ‘mercurial talent’

Other players who could have a big impact for Sweden this summer include Kim Kallstrom of Lyon, Sebastien Larsson of Sunderland, Johan Elmander of Galatasaray and Ola Toivonen of PSV each of whom have impressed in some of Europe’s top domestic leagues over the past few seasons whilst having featured regularly with the national side.

It isn’t only in the experience department where Sweden are looking strong either as they have named the likes of Rasmus Elm and Emir Bajrami in their squad, both of whom have impressed in the infancy of their club and international careers.

One to watch… Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Ibrahimovic is one of football’s more interesting characters as well as being one of the most talented players on the planet. He has enjoyed great success throughout his club career but he continues to be thought of by many as being overrated. The only way for him to prove his doubters wrong is for him to perform in a huge tournament in which the whole world will see him and appreciate him and the Euros provides him with a great opportunity to do so.

Euros nostalgia: Sweden’s best performance in the Euros came when they were the host nation in 1992. They performed strongly in the group stages on home turf and went through to the last four as group winners only to be knocked out by Germany at this stage. Their fellow Scandinavians, Denmark, were the surprise winners of the competition that year.

Tournament prospects: If France and England both perform to their potential then it is hard to see Sweden progressing, particularly as co-hosts Ukraine make up the group. However, both France and England have underachieved at times over the past decade so the Swede’s certainly do have a hope of making it through and into the knock-out stages.

Ukraine:

Co-hosts Ukraine look the weakest side in group D on paper but they will be banking on home advantage to help them spring a surprise and make it through to the last eight of the competition.

 Tymoschuk

The co-hosts will rely heavily on their experienced stalwarts like Tymoschuk

The vast majority of Ukraine’s squad play their football on home soil and as a result they will go into the competition as something of an unknown quantity as most people, including myself, are fairly ill-informed about the Ukranian leagues.

Though much of their squad will be relatively unknown to many, there are a few very familiar names present including legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko, former Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin and Bayern Munich’s hugely experienced holding-midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk.

One would assume that Shevchenko in particular could bow out of international football after this tournament on home soil and how he would love to sign off in style with a reminder of the old magic that once made him one of world football’s most celebrated front-men.

One to watch… Andriy Yarmolenko: The young Dynamo Kyiv prospect has already shown great versatility in his fledgling career as he has demonstrated an ability to switch seamlessly between playing as a striker and playing in midfield for both club and country. The 22 year-old already has a very impressive international record having scored eight goals in just twenty appearances.

Euros nostalgia: Since becoming an independent nation and football side Ukraine have never qualified for the European championships so the opportunity to host the tournament has provided them with a huge opportunity given that the hosts have an automatic right to qualification.

Tournament prospects: As I’ve mentioned, Ukraine definitely appear to have the weakest squad on paper but being the host nation can sometimes inspire greatness. Even some of football’s lesser sides have prospered when given such an advantage and Ukraine will hope to join the list but in reality they are more than likely to fall at the first hurdle.

A brief summary of Group D:

If England and France play to their potential then they should both progress to the knock-out stages. However, both Ukraine and Sweden possess a decent threat and the two favourites to move forwards from the group will have to be very watchful in order to avoid an upset.

England France football

England and France look like the favourites to progress from a tricky Group D

I am finding it hard to call who I think will top the group but I will go for France with England qualifying in second place. I think both Sweden and Ukraine will pick up at least a point in the group with Sweden to finish third and co-hosts Ukraine to struggle into last place.


 

England’s Euros Squad: The Ups and Downs of Roy’s first squad and what I would have done differently

In the wake of one of the most protracted squad releases ever known to man, the world and his wife have begun to let their feelings be known about Roy Hodgson’s first England squad selection and it must be said that most are a little bit irked by a few omissions and selections.

Hodgson England

The headlines in short are that Steven Gerrard has been named captain, Rio Ferdinand misses out, John Terry makes the cut in spite of the on-going race row, Kyle Walker misses out through injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and John Ruddy are in despite never having played for the national side and Micah Richards, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent, Daniel Sturridge and Phil Jagielka have all missed out.

If I were in charge my squad would be as follows:

Joe Hart, Rob Green, John Ruddy

Glen Johnson, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines

Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Andy Carroll

Reserves: David Stockdale, Phil Jagielka, Adam Johnson, Aaron Lennon, Peter Crouch

I think the goalkeeping selections in ‘my squad’ are the same as what Roy’s because, quite frankly, there are only very few other viable options. The likes of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson would be hard to tempt back into international football given that they would only be back-up options to Joe Hart who in reality will probably start every game of the tournament even if he plays really poorly.

My defensive selections are also very similar to Roy’s. I too would have ignored Micah Richards as he hasn’t been able to find a place in City’s line-up in recent weeks which I believe speaks volumes about a lack of faith in his ability to be trusted in big games. The only alteration between my selection and that of Hodgson is my inclusion of Rio Ferdinand as an eighth defender. I think Ferdinand has performed admirably at times throughout the latter half of the Premier League season and if his omission is down to “footballing reasons” and not an unwillingness to partner John Terry then I would still have him alongside JT in my starting line-up.

My midfield selections are also fairly similar to Hodgson’s. I though would never even have considered Stewart Downing for a place in the squad given his dismal form this season and I would have instead taken an extra central midfielder in the form of Michael Carrick who I think has had a very strong season in Manchester United’s midfield. Another player who has made Hodgson’s squad but would fall short of making mine is James Milner who has struggled to find a starting place at Manchester City over the second half of this season. I know his omission would be a little controversial given his very strong and determined character and his versatility but I am wary of taking too many players that are either out of form or struggling to get into their club sides.

My four striking options would consist of Rooney, Welbeck, Carroll and Sturridge. Rooney and Welbeck are must haves after their respective campaigns at Manchester United, Carroll would provide a direct, target-man option and Sturridge would provide flexibility and versatility with his ability to play either through the middle or out a little wider as part of a front three. I would omit Jermain Defoe from my squad for the same reasons as I stated about James Milner, he is undoubtedly a very good finisher and he does have decent experience of international football but I struggle to see him making a huge impact when he has been limited to a place on the subs bench for much of the Premier League season.

In summary I think the positives of Roy’s selection are as follows:

John Ruddy’s selection as the third keeper: It is nice to see Ruddy’s development this season rewarded with a call up and I think his form has warranted acknowledgment of this nature.

Micah Richards’ omission: I think Micah Richards offers a lot in the Premier League but when up against the world’s best wingers and full-backs I still think he lacks discipline. I think he will be a part of England’s World Cup squad for Brazil in 2014 but for nowI think he still needs to do more.

The selection of Gerrard and Lampard in midfield: Many were calling for one or both of England’s veteran centre midfielders to be axed in favour of a promotion of younger options but they are both still well worth a place in the squad for me.

Picking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: This was a decision that took a lot of guts and I definitely think it’s the right call. I would go as far as to consider the Ox for a starting berth as I think he has the ability to provide a real surprise factor at the Euros. If he were German or Dutch then I think that their coaches would be throwing him straight into their line-ups as their policy of promoting young talent on the big stage in recent times has proven successful.

Andy Carroll taken as one of England’s strikers: Many will point to Carroll’s poor form since moving to Anfield in arguing that he isn’t worth a place but I think his more recent signs of life and in particular his strong performance in the FA Cup Final as a second half substitute are enough to suggest that he could be a key player for England next month.

And now for my thoughts on what I think are the glaring mistakes in Hodgson’s selection…

The  ‘Downs’ of Hodgson’s squad selection:

The omission of Rio Ferdinand: He may not be the force of old but I think Rio is definitely still one of the four best centre backs in the country and should therefore have been selected.

Stewart Downing making the cut: I don’t understand how a player so horribly out of sorts can make England’s national squad in a position which we are actually quite well stocked in. I simply cannot fathom how he has been preferred to other wide men such as Adam Johnson and Aaron Lennon. For me this is the worst selection in the whole of Roy’s first squad.

The omission of Michael Carrick: I have forever been fighting the corner of Michael Carrick as being someone worthy of a place in the international set-up but it seems that yet another England manager doesn’t much fancy him. I may be a touch biased given that I am a United fan but I think he has had a very decent season and that he offers the defensive qualities of someone like Gareth Barry whilst also offering a superior ability to distribute the ball. Sadly it now appears as if he is ready to turn his back on international football.

The omission of Daniel Sturridge: He may have struggled to hold down a place in Chelsea’s starting line-up since Di Matteo took over at the club but before that he was arguably one of Chelsea’s best players this season. Versatility is crucial for sides hoping to go deep into major tournaments and I think he would provide that in abundance.

A tale of two diminutive Spaniards

As we all know too well, English football is deprived of creative attacking midfielders with superb craft and much sought after ‘end product’. One particular area of the world though is thriving in this department and you may not be surprised to hear that this is Spain.

Silva and Mata

Silva and Mata are amongst a wealth of creative talent at Spain's disposal

Think Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales and Javi Martinez and on the basis of the weekend’s performance Mikel Arteta and you arguably have a list of 8 or 9 experienced and/or enormously talented individuals capable of unlocking defensive doors, playing the killer pass and even getting themselves in the mix for plenty of goalscoring opportunities themselves.

In England on the other hand we are really limited in this crucial area. Gerrard and Lampard still have their moments but it would be hard to deny that they are past their best, Paul Scholes is re-emerging since his brief retirement period as arguably England’s best ball-playing midfielder but he too his way beyond the wrong the side of 30 and beyond this I’m struggling to think of any match-winning playmakers that we have at our disposal.

Jack Wilshere is probably England’s up and coming force in this role but he has already been on the receiving end of a string of injury concerns and may miss out on the Euros this summer and even putting such issues aside is he really better than the likes of Thiago, Canales, Mata and Martinez the emergent midfield forces in and around the Spanish squad? I personally don’t think so.

The other hope for England in this sort of role is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is very unclear just where he will end up being best utilised in the future for club and country as he is very much in the developmental and fledgling stage of his career at present.

The lack of current and emerging options in this pivotal attacking role is alarming and perhaps why the major English forces in the Premier League have turned to Spain to find their diminutive playmakers.

Manchester City have David Silva operating ‘in the hole’ behind the forwards as their most trusted playmaker, Chelsea have Juan Mata fulfilling much the same role in their line-up and Vicente Del Bosque must be licking his lips when thinking about how two of his dead-certs for the Euros have plied their trade in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata Chelsea

Silva and Mata have been two of the most impressive playmakers in the Premier League this season

At times, both Spanish attacking central midfield players have been the driving forces behind their team’s runs of form and when they have been at their best they have been almost impossible to handle.

Silva may have looked a little ‘burnt out’ in the latter stages of this season, which of course will be of concern to the Spanish management as well as Manchester City’s but perhaps this is just a knock-on effect of his fellow team-mates’ slumps in form? Even if it is just a personal form issue, one good thing for Spain to come out of Silva’s stuggles to light up the Premier League in the second half of the season is that City have been lost without him, which suggests that he is a hugely influential and instrumental player when he is at his best.

This theory might be for those of a sunnier, glass-half-full disposition but it is a theory that I’m sticking too. I think that as soon as Silva is re-united with his international team-mates before the Euros that he will feel refreshed and will have a new lease of life not often seen in City’s recent struggles.

While City have struggled in the absence of Silva’s best form, Chelsea have begun to flourish as a result of Mata’s rise to prominence.

Perhaps it is the way that Mata was being deployed by Andre Vilas-Boas that was slightly inhibiting the Spaniard’s form in his first few months at the Bridge or perhaps it is just a case of him taking a while to settle in but one thing is for sure and that is that Mata has now begun to express himself as we know he can and that Chelsea are reaping huge benefits as a result.

Mata has far outdone David Silva’s efforts of late and it is little coincidence that their two sides have had coinciding contrasting fortunes, so much so that Chelsea could yet be contesting a Champions League and an FA Cup final whereas Manchester City now look like ending the season trophy-less and dejected.

One might even go as far as to argue that Mata’s recent efforts mean that he deserves to jump Silva in the queue to be part of Spain’s starting play-making unit at the Euros. Whether this will be the case or not though, it is clear that Spain’s finest ball-players are a step ahead of England’s at present and that they have an embarrassment of riches in this role which could well drive them to a third consecutive major tournament win this summer.

One interesting point which I will make though is that England have no one closer to such talents and such attacking influence than Paul Scholes and that his contributions since returning to United this season mean that whoever takes the England to the Euros this summer simply must try again to persuade him out of retirement. If Scholes isn’t a part of the England squad then do we really have anybody who can compete with Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata not to mention a couple of other huge talents?