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.


 

EURO 2012 Group B: ‘The Group of Death’

Denmark:

Having been handed pretty much the roughest draw possible Denmark look like the weakest of the four sides in Group B on paper but as the old saying goes ‘football matches aren’t won on paper’ and the Danes will be hoping that this footballing cliche lives up to it’s billing.

Eriksen

Eriksen has made a major impression at Ajax and now he will look to impress in a major international tournament

They may appear to have a somewhat inferior squad to those of their rival teams in Group B but they actually have a squad made up of some very decent international footballers as well as Christian Eriksen who is one of the most highly rated young midfielders in world football. It is too early to right off Denmark’s chances of causing an upset in ‘the group of death’ but one would have to say that there would be little shame in propping up the rest come the end of the group stages if that were to be the case.

One to watch… Christian Eriksen: Eriksen has attracted the interest of many top European clubs over the past couple of seasons with his pace, creativity and ever-developing class clear for all to see. This could be the tournament where he becomes a star.

Euros nostalgia: Denmark were surprise winners when Sweden hosted the tournament in 1992. Inspired by Peter Schmeichel’s phenomenal form in goal and the playmaking skills of Brian Laudrup the Danes came through tough group consisting of hosts Sweden, France and England and then defeated reigning champions Holland in the semis before beating Germany 2-0 in the final.

Tournament prospects: It is very hard to see Denmark getting out of the ‘group of death’ given the competition but that was also the case back in 1992 when they were victorious. They will probably finish bottom of the group but don’t write them off as they are a very decent side.

Netherlands:

Over the past few years the Dutch national side have re-established themselves as one of the super-powers of international football and that has been in no small part down to the starring roles of attacking midfielders Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder and front-man Robin Van Persie.

Robben

Robben may not have many more chances to land silverware with the Dutch national side

Another key part of the Dutch’s re-emergence has been their willingness to trial and persist with the inclusion of young and talented players on the international stage. Over the past few years players such as Gregory Van Der Wiel, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Ibrahim Affellay and Eljero Elia among others have been thrust right into the thick of international football and they have had to develop at a rate of knots in order to meet the standards required.

Their blend of world class talent, experience and a wealth of young and talented players has seen them become a real force to be reckoned with and they will hope to go one further than their runners-up finish at the World Cup in 2010.

One to watch… Gregory Van Der Wiel: Holland’s squad is brimming with young and attacking talent and Van Der Wiel definitely comes within this bracket. The young right back has attracted the attention of huge clubs such as Real Madrid already and perhaps he is just a few strong performances at the Euros away from sealing such a move.

Euros nostalgia: The Netherlands won the trophy in 1988 with a squad containing legends such as Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten who scored probably the best goal ever to grace the final of a European Championship.

Tournament prospects: The Dutch squad is up there with the best in the competition and their recent qualification and major tournament form suggests that they are prime candidates to win the tournament. However, they are in the toughest group of the draw and they will have to hit the ground running to avoid an embarrassing first round exit.

Germany:

Germany are nearly always key players when it comes to major international tournaments and it appears as if that will be the case once again.

If their showing at the World Cup in 2010 is anything to go by then their young and developing squad could well be ready to take the Euros by storm. Since then they have promoted youngsters Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrie and particularly Mario Gotze to the forefront of their thinking and their already young and exciting squad has picked up some even younger and more exciting recruits.

Ozil and Gotze

Ozil had a huge impact in 2010 and now partnered with Gotze in the playmaking department he could impress once again

If their more recent additions to the squad can impact in a similar fashion to how the likes of Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller did in South Africa in 2010 then Germany could be the team to watch in Poland and Ukraine.

One to watch… Mario Gotze: The diminutive Dortmund attacking midfielder has become a key part of Germany’s full international squad having graduated from the youth ranks since the World Cup in 2010 and he looks set to have a major impact in his first major competition for the national side.

Euros nostalgia: Having overcome England on penalties on their own turf in the semis of Euro 96, Germany went on to inflict defeat on the Czech Republic in the final and that remains as their most recent major tournament win.

Tournament prospects: Armed with a fantastic squad bursting to the seams with potential Germany could definitely go all the way and win this one. The bulk of their squad is made up of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund players and if they can re-produce the domestic form shown by Dortmund and the European form of Bayern then they will surely rival the likes of Spain. They may have a tough group but I think they will top it.

Portugal:

Over the past decade Portugal have often shown the worst of themselves in qualification for major tournaments by scraping through groups which their capable squads should have been more than able to deal with but when it has come to the big stage they have a decent record. They have managed to get out of the group stages in each of the last four European Championships and in amongst this record they should really have picked up the trophy in 2004 when they lost out to shock winners Greece on home turf.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo suffered the heartbreak of defeat in the final in 2004 but now he captains his country

It is rough on Portugal that they have been drawn in a group that contains two of the best sides in the world as they would have looked a decent bet to go through in any of the other three groups but don’t rule them out of contention in Group B just yet.

At their disposal they have an experienced and talented back line including Real Madrid’s Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, a versatile and energy-packed midfield including the likes of Joao Moutinho of Porto and Raul Meireles of Chelsea, and, to top it off they have one of the fiercest looking attacking contingents in the competition with the likes of Nani, Quaresma, Varela and Helder Postiga providing able support to the tournament’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo.

One to watch… Cristiano Ronaldo: Off the back of his best season in La Liga to date (and that’s saying something!) the eyes of the whole tournament will be on Ronaldo as he hopes to set a captain’s example and inspire his side to qualify from the tournament’s toughest group.

Euros nostalgia: The football loving nation of Portugal was left devastated by their side’s failure to defeat Greece in the final of Euro 2004 the tournament which saw their star player of the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo, take his first steps in a major international tournament and saw their former star man, Luis Figo, play in his final European Championships.

A brief summary of Group B:

It is nearly impossible to predict the outcome of this group given the calibre of the teams and the individuals on show but it is hard to look past Denmark being the bottom side. I don’t think they’ll be whipping boys by any means and I expect them to push each of their opponents really hard but ultimately I think their efforts will prove a little futile.

Given that it is ‘the group of death’ it means that one of the tournaments stronger sides will have to take an early bath and face the indignity of a first round exit. I don’t quite know why I think this will be the case but I have a feeling that the Netherlands will prove to be the major casualty of the first round and I think Portugal will come second in the group behind Germany who I expect to fare very well throughout the tournament. I think that the winner of the competition will come from Group B and I think Germany look the most likely.