England are in Group D alongside France, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine. Group D is not the most attractive on paper yet it is not the most predictable either. Ukraine and Sweden will be the clear underdogs with England and France both having squads full of household names but both have the ability to cause an upset. Many England fans will not be too familiar with Ukraine and Sweden, whilst France are a very different outfit to the one with which many football fans will be familiar. Here is a run-down of England’s group D opponents.
Qualification and Tournament Build-Up: France were strong in the qualification phase, only losing once (at home to Belarus) and finishing top of their group, however it did rest on their last game against Bosnia and Herzegovina which ended in a draw meaning they finished 1st by a single point. They have also won their last four friendlies in the build up to the tournament, including a victory against Germany in Bremen in February.
Manager: World Cup winner Laurent Blanc. After suspending all 23 of the World Cup squad for his first game in charge, he has manager to breathe new life into the French side and turned the French farce from 2010 into a French force ready to reintroduce themselves at Euro 2012.
Key Men: France have an abundance of flair players including Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery and Manchester City’s Samir Nasri. Arsenal target Yann M’Vila is widely regarded as a hot prospect and made 8 appearances at the heart of midfield in the qualification phase. Real Madrid centre-forward Karim Benzema is likely to lead the line for France after scoring 32 goals in all competitions last season.
Prediction: I think France have a good enough squad and are in good enough form to pip England to 1st in group D. In terms of the rest of the tournament, my prediction would be a semi-final defeat for France which would mark a large improvement from their group stage exit from the World Cup in 2010.
Qualification and Tournament Build-Up: Ukraine qualified as co-hosts and have been inconsistent in the build up to Euro 2012. They were unbeaten in their last six friendlies prior to defeats against Austria and Turkey in the last 5 days. They did manage a 3-3 draw with Germany in November 2011, easily their most impressive result in the last year or so.
Manager: Former prolific Soviet striker Oleh Blohkin who is in his second spell as Ukraine manager, the first saw him lead Ukraine to the World Cup quarter-finals in Germany where they were defeated 3-0 by eventual champions Italy.
Key Men: Ukraine’s most well-known player is 2004 Ballon d’Or winner Andriy Shevchenko and despite the knocking his reputation took during his disastrous time at Stamford Bridge, he still has what it takes to score goals at the highest level. Shevchenko’s Dynamo Kyiv teammate Artem Milevskiy may also prove a threat. Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is probably Ukraine’s next most highly-rated player and will prove a battling opponent to any midfielder in Group D.
Prediction: Although Ukraine will have home support, I feel they do not have enough to offer on the pitch and have by far the weakest squad in the group. 4th place in the group will be Ukraine’s final position, in my opinion.
Qualification: Sweden finished second in a difficult qualification group with the Netherlands, winning eight (including the final game against the Netherlands) and losing just two. They have won their last four friendlies with Serbia and Croatia their most notable scalps.
Manager: Former Rosenborg coach Erik Hamren. He replaced Lars Lagerback in time for the start of the qualification campaign and led them to a successful second place in a tough group. He is a well respected manager who never played to a very high level but has been much more useful as a coach winning Danish football manager of the year in 2008, followed by Norwegian football manager of the year in 2009.
Key Men: The obvious name that springs to mind when you think of great Swedish players is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, love him or hate him, he is a good player and, on his day, he can hurt anyone, including England. Other notable presences in the Swedish squad are Lyon midfielder Kim Kallstrom, Former Bolton centre-forward Johan Elmander, Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson who had an impressive season and highly-rated PSV Eindhoven forward Ola Toivonen, all of whom have the ability to power Sweden through the group.
Prediction: Sweden will be a tough nut to crack as the Netherlands will agree and I can see them being in with a chance before the final round of group matches. I think England will just pip them to second place leaving them in 3rd place in Group D and facing an early exit from the tournament.
England have a much tougher ask than many fans think and I think all will be decided in the final round of group fixtures when England face Ukraine and France play Sweden. Group D could turn out to be one of the closest and personally, I am relishing seeing how the group unfolds.
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