Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 3 Prediction

Spain Vs. France:

Throughout the group stages both France and Spain struggled for fluency at times and both flirted with elimination from the competition on match-day three of the groups when they were each given a real scare by ‘inferior’ opposition.

Spain France Euro 2012

Spain and France have struggled to find their best form so far in the competition

France in particular struggled to find form in the group stages and qualified from group D as runners-up having managed a total of just four points from their three matches, their most disappointing performance of all coming in their final game against Sweden where they were beaten 2-0 by a side already assured of elimination from the competition.

Arguably their best performance of the groups was against England in their opening game where they dominated the game for long periods but even with the amount of territory and possession they managed against the English they still didn’t look hugely threatening as they were all too often limited to long range strikes at goal.

If France are to have any hope of shocking the reigning European and World Champions Spain then they will have to find much more fluency and will have to find ways of getting in behind their opponents which is something they have really struggled to do in their group matches against England and Sweden.

When the French are at their best they find a way of getting their danger men into the action on a regular basis and it is essential that they provide the likes of Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery with plenty of ball so that they can use the full width of the pitch and stretch the game. If they don’t manage to do so then it is likely that Spain will be allowed to play within their comfort zone in the narrow areas of the pitch where they can really hurt France with their tight and slick passing.

If Spain have their own way then they will try and dictate the play as mentioned and keep the game in the central areas of the field where they are arguably more blessed than any other nation. In their final group game against Croatia they may have eventually snatched the points through Jesus Navas’ late tap-in but for long periods of the game they looked fragile against the counter-attacking willingness and talents that Croatia had at their disposal and they should really have been punished in the last half an hour when Ivan Rakitic failed to head home the easiest of his side’s chances.

Had Rakitic applied the finishing touches to Croatia’s most threatening break then Spain could well have been the tournament’s biggest opening round casualty but they managed to pull through in the end and they will be hoping they can re-find their best form in the knock-out stages where it really counts.

Spain’s finest performance of the competition thus far came when they defeated the Republic of Ireland by four goals to nil. In this match they found a balance between their suffocating midfield play and their ability to stretch the game when required and as such they created several good chances and made their opponents look horribly out of their depth.

Tonight Spain will have to do much the same if they are to get the better of a France side who will arguably provide Spain with their toughest challenge so far in tournament if they can find anything like their best form. I think that Spain will just about get the job done but I expect them to find the going tough throughout periods of the match before coming out of the game on the right side of a 2-1 final scoreline.

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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.

Transfer Window Watch: Cisse’s signing furthers the International appeal of Pardew’s Newcastle

Newcastle’s latest signing, Papiss Demba Cisse of Senegal, is the latest in a long line of potentially very astute purchases on Tyneside. It is a signing that is demonstrative of manager Alan Pardew’s ever-increasing ambitions to return Newcastle to the higher reaches of the Premier League and ultimately the excitement of high-end European football. This move is also suggestive of the Newcastle hierarchy’s own desire for progression and to quell any talk of them becoming a selling club that live to survive only upon their own financial incomings.

Newcastle's new no.9

Cisse’s arrival has also stirred up great excitement amongst the Toon Army who are relishing the prospect of him teaming up with compatriot and fellow striker Demba Ba, who has been a major hit on Tyneside since his summer move.

Couple this latest signal of intent with the array of international and diverse talent at Alan Pardew’s disposal and it appears Newcastle have the makings of an exciting and potentially very successful squad. Though it may seem premature to talk of them as a major Premier League force of the forthcoming years, they have performed with great confidence and assurance this season (with the exception of their second half collapse against Fulham) and deserve to be fighting it out with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. The assembly of a rather cosmopolitan squad including a decent English contingent has seen Newcastle develop tremendously in recent months and is perhaps comparable to the early era of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger’s tutelage.

Wenger’s early Arsenal sides were founded upon a stern defence with a major English influence, a hard-nosed French partnership in the middle of midfield and an array of pacy international options in the advanced roles. Upon these foundations Wenger then widened the net a little and over his years at Arsenal he has looked in depth at bringing in African talent such as Nwankwo Kanu, Lauren, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, Emmanuel Adebayor, Alex Song and Gervinho. The similarities between his transfer targets whilst at Arsenal and those of Newcastle in recent times are apparent.

There appears to be similarities between Wenger and Pardew's transfer policies

Newcastle’s defensive unit is currently comprised of a Dutch first-choice keeper, English options in either full-back position and a further two competing for a central berth, a prodigiously talented if unproven Brazilian full-back and a hugely experienced Argentinian international leading the side from centre-half.

Tim Krul in goal has been the recipient of an enormous amount of praise for his performances over the past year having been thrust into the limelight by Chris Hughton and he has been very ably supported by those  in front of him. Newcastle’s defence has been lauded as the key to their increased success since their relegation to the Championship in 2009, and skipper Fabricio Coloccini has marshalled the defensive unit with exemplary leadership.

The diverse and international appeal of Newcastle’s current set-up also extends to the more advanced areas of the field. Take their midfield options which now boast an impressive global appeal, including three young French talents, an Ivory Coast international, an experienced Argentinian wide man and a couple of decent English options to boot.

Tiote and Cabaye have excelled since Pardew brought them together in midfield

Their key performers in the central midfield area, Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye, have been superb so far this season since the alarming departures of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton. One might even go as far as to say that they could grace any Premier League side’s starting XI, given their contribution to date.

With this wealth of international options in midfield and Cisse and Ba now in place as their potentially lethal strike force, Newcastle must be looking forward with enormous anticipation.

Their comparably multi-national make-up to the Arsenal squads throughout Wenger’s successful era really bodes well for the club as they embark upon what they hope will prove to be a period of accelerated development which could once again see them dining at the top table.

Newcastle’s revolving door casts a cloud over their recent successes

The Toon Army have been put through more than most football fans

Living on the periphery of Newcastle teaches you a thing or two about how the locals look upon their duty to support their football club. Often their fervent support is referred to as a religion, but in truth it is more like an occupation. It is a job that they love, a job that they are immensely passionate about, but ultimately a job that causes them an immense amount of stress and torment.

This stress has become an infamous part of their relationship with the club in recent times, but after years of managerial departures and arrivals, boardroom unrest, relegation, and promotion it seems that the club has finally found some peace. However, while the Newcastle fans are on the crest of a wave, there still remains an unmistakeable sense of caution.

The reason for such tentativeness at present is presumably down to the perpetual rumours surrounding the futures of their star players and their manager who’s stock has risen enormously since he came to the club. In the wake of a summer that saw them lose three of their best players (Luis Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton) for a combined fee of around £10 million, Newcastle’s fans are justifiably concerned about the buy in and sell on culture that appears to be developing at the club.

Carroll has struggled for form since his astronomically expensive transfer

Couple these high profile losses with the departure of local lad Andy Carroll, who at the time was considered one of the hottest young properties in English football and things do appear a little anti-progressional. To sell on four of your finest assets in just over half a year, with three of them going relatively ‘on the cheap’, doesn’t exactly reek of ambition.

However, Newcastle have re-generated from within as well as investing wisely in order to move up a level from last season. Some of the players who were already on the books prior to the departure of their former protagonists, such as Cheikh Tiote, Tim Krul and current skipper Fabricio Coloccini, have all excelled in the club’s magnificent season to date. In addition to this, Demba Ba (a free summer signing) and Yohan Cabaye (another astute buy) have been of paramount importance to the Toon’s brilliant spell.

The combination of internal progression and the successful integration of newly acquired talent has guided Newcastle as far as the quarter finals of the Carling Cup, the forthcoming 4th Round of the FA Cup, and most importantly 7th place in the Premier League. Though there is a long way to go yet, it does seem that this season will go down as a huge success for a club that are theoretically still in recovery mode following their shock relegation to the Championship just three years ago.

With the wounds of this footballing atrocity for the City of Newcastle still so raw, it is easy to comprehend their tempered excitement at the moment. They have dealt magnificently with the loss of several star players and have managed to fill the voids thus far without breaking the bank. How long though can this method of recycling keep pushing the club forward?

Just imagine if Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul all decided that they wanted to move to stronger footballing and financial institutions. What would this do to the club?

Sure, they would get a decent chunk of money for such a group of talented players, but up to this point Mike Ashley hasn’t exactly delivered on his promises to re-invest all the money brought in from previous outgoings.

If this trend of buying cheap, selling big and not re-investing the profit continues then surely there is only so far the club will go in near future. At present the team are performing out of their skins and their scouting network are producing an impressive success rate, but you would forgive the Toon Army if they were harbouring some residual doubt and apprehension about the pattern emerging at the club.

The revolving door seems to still be in motion at St.James’ with rumours of high profile departures, but if they do want to hold on to their star players then I suggest they try and keep them sweet. May I suggest a new contract for Demba Ba that doesn’t have a paltry release clause and that includes a strawberry syrup reward-per-goal (see the now infamous Ba interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves).

Pardew’s Lesson In Anger Management

Who would have bet on Newcastle battling out in the top four come late October? Not many people I can assure you, but alas it is the predicament they find themselves in at the moment and as a result of their rather surprise return to prominence Tyneside is buzzing with enthusiasm.

It is probably far too early to suggest that they can maintain such a strong challenge all season, but hopes are high that the Toon can force themselves into contention for a Europa league place with their early charge. To bring the glory days of European football back to St.James’ park must be the ultimate aim of their much maligned owner Mike Ashley and the man he placed in charge of the club almost a year ago.

Under Ashley’s ownership Alan Pardew endured a rather hostile beginning to his reign as Manager. Having been named the man to replace the very popular Chris Hughton he was immediately met with uncertainty and an air of disillusionment from the fans.

Hughton before him had successfully guided the side back to the Premier League and had safely seen them to a mid-season position of mid-table solidity. Sitting comfortably in the middle of the league table may not exactly be awe-inspiring, but the security that comes with it was exactly what the football club and it’s fans had been craving. Sadly for Hughton, Mike Ashley was one of the only people associated with the club that weren’t contented by this and saw fit to relieve him of his duties.

This unsurprisingly called Ashley’s loyalty and decision making into question. He was once again lambasted by the press and the club’s fans for his actions. Rather unfairly his new man at the helm, Alan Pardew, then had to assume the unenviable position of being one of the faces of what was at the time seen as negative change.

Not only had Pardew been asked to take on the role of living up to Hughton’s great record at the club, but he was soon fighting fires on the media frontline amidst the Andy Carroll transfer saga on January ‘Deadline Day’. If he was unsure before he took the role just how passionate the club’s fans were, then he was left in little doubt after this tough early period. The fans were angry and disillusioned with events that were unfolding before their eyes and Pardew was one of a few major channels for their understandable angst.

In spite of the sale of their talismanic striker, Newcastle continued to impress in the second half of the season and ultimately Pardew had maintained their mid-table position right up to the season’s finish. Having managed to pick up some admirers along the way, the first few months of his reign had gone just about as well as could be hoped.

However, Pardew’s role as a figure head for the club led to further personal strife as the powers that be decided to part company with three other key members of his first XI. Skipper Kevin Nolan, the perpetually controversial Joey Barton and classy left back Jose Enrique were all allowed to leave either on free transfers or for relatively small fees, which again calling into question the ambition of the club.

Fans were once again left fraught with nerves going into this season having sold big and seemingly failed to bring in proven quality. As it turns out though, such caution and worry was rather unnecessary. Pardew has thus far led the club with admirable dignity and at present has them in the mix fighting for genuine success. How he has managed to lead this current squad to where they currently reside is unclear really, but he is worthy of high praise for his achievements to date.

Amidst the worries about a lack of depth and real star quality, the likes of the previously rather unknown Yohan Cabaye have stood tall since joining the club in a low-profile summer deal. Cabaye has looked every bit a top class Premier League performer since his move, demonstrating great fight and tenacity coupled with a decent passing range. Fellow summer signing Demba Ba has also played his way to the forefront of Newcastle’s early assault on the top of the table with a surprisingly decent goal tally.

While the low-key signings have exceeded the expectations of many, so too have the players who were already on the books. In midifeld Cheik Tiote has continued to build upon an encouraging first season in the Premier League and has been supported by the efforts of ‘local lad done good’ Steven Taylor and new Skipper Fabricio Coloccini at the back. With their less celebrated players too coming out of the shadows it is little surprise that optimism appears to be creeping back into the stands at St.James’.

On Thursday evening BBC Newcastle’s radio show ‘Total Sport’ featured an hour long phone-in with Alan Pardew and his time in the studio provided interesting insight into his rather surprising success so far. Pardew insisted that his strength as a manager is “getting the best out of players” citing the likes of Marlon Harewood and Anton Ferdinand as past successes under his tutelage.

Another moment of intrigue in the phone-in came when the presenters asked Pardew “how [he had] convince[d] Ashley to give [him] the job”. Pardew answered “I convinced him that I could bring success”. Exactly what success is to Ashley is a little unclear given his decision to release Chris Hughton when the overwhelming majority of the footballing world struggled to see why, but this answer from Pardew tells you a lot about the man.

He is humble and was willing to offer sympathy to Hughton who he said had done a “top job” for Newcastle, but he is also immensely optimistic and confident in his ability as a manager. Many have expressed an opinion that Pardew has had some hard luck in management, but he himself seems far more interested on his future endeavours and how he can continue to take the club forward.

I must admit that I was expecting Newcastle to struggle this season, as were many I might add. Pardew though has always impressed me. I agree with the many people who think he has at times been dealt a rough hand, particularly given his role in returning West Ham to the league and then to a showpiece game against Liverpool in the FA Cup final, which by the way, they were very unlucky to lose.

Maybe, just maybe, Newcastle have managed to offload the likes of Barton and Nolan at the right time and if Tiote and Cabaye can continue to inspire the side all the way to European contention come May then Pardew will have worked a minor miracle. If this is to happen then they will need to continue to make hay in the ‘easier’ games and strengthen their attacking and defensive options in January, but if they do this there is no reason why they and their Manager can’t continue to surprise a few people.