Euro 2012: Group D Preview

The Euro 2012 betting odds suggest that England and France, both joint fourth favourites to win the tournament, will progress through Group D rather easily against the outsiders of Ukraine and Sweden.

But the Blågul Fotboll Euro 2012 guide goes against those odds. Four experts, each representing a country in Group D, all predicted elimination for one of France and England.

We posed seven questions to each expert to understand the four teams and to find out what they think the final table will be after the last round of matches on Tuesday 19 June.

Group D fixtures:

Monday 11 June 2012: France vs England, Ukraine vs Sweden.

Friday 15 June 2012: Ukraine vs France, Sweden vs England.

Tuesday 19 June 2012: England vs Ukraine, Sweden vs France.

Iain Macintosh – England:

How have England performed in their friendly games during the lead up to Euro 2012 and during qualifying?

England qualified with a degree of comfort, though home draws with Switzerland and Montenegro didn’t exactly help matters. Under Fabio Capello, this was a solid, if uninspiring team, capable of holding their own against the best, see the 1-0 win over Spain, and also of nodding off and falling asleep against everyone else, see the 2010 World Cup.

What do the English expect of the team during the tournament?

For the first time in my life, there is no expectation here at all. The English usually veer wildly between ‘WE’RE GONNA WIN IT!’ and ‘We might win it!” but this summer it’s more of a case of, “We really haven’t got a chance of winning it, have we?” Personally, I think England will have to work very hard just to get out of the group stage.

Were there any surprises when the squad was selected?

Micah Richards, who won a Premier League title playing at right-back for Manchester City, must be rather disappointed to miss out while Glen Johnson (not a great right-back) and Phil Jones (not really a right-back at all) go in his place. There was also much consternation at the decision to leave Rio Ferdinand at home while John Terry remained in the squad. However, it’s not like there is a surplus of world class English footballers sitting in front of the telly this summer.

Which team would England fear the most out of the other three countries in the group?

I always rather envied the French reaction to their 2010 humiliation. New manager Laurent Blanc dropped the entire squad and forced them to play their way back in. I like that in a manager. It’s been a rocky road for him since, they could easily have screwed up the qualification process, but France look in a resurgent mood now. There’s a new core of players in place and, if their comeback against Iceland is anything to go by, there’s obviously some spirit too. Let’s be honest though. Any one of those teams has the capability to beat England.

How would you expect England to line up during the tournament?

It’s Roy Hodgson, so it’s going to be a very deep line of four defenders and a line of four midfielders about 10-15 yards in front of them, squeezing the space. For the first two games, Andy Carroll will lead the line with Ashley Young behind him. After that, Wayne Rooney will be available and would be a logical choice for the second striker role. But ultimately, names don’t matter for Hodgson. It’s the system, the drilling, the balls into channels. We’re in his world now.

Who is the key player for England and why?

It’s tempting to say Wayne Rooney, but he may only get one game. Joe Hart is our only other world class, peak condition player, but ultimately this tournament will be about John Terry, how he copes with the pressure, and how the other players respond to his presence. Will he buckle under the scrutiny, knowing that he has to go to court to face accusations of racial abuse? Will the other players respect him and listen to his instructions? This will either be his finest summer or the confirmation that his time at the top is over.

After the final Group D matches on Tuesday 19 June, what will the table look like?

1. France

2. Sweden

3. England

4. Ukraine

Andrew Gibney – France:

How have France performed in their friendly games during the lead up to Euro 2012 and during qualifying?

After a shaky start to qualifying the French side really picked up and went on a eight game winning streak which put them in a commanding position. In the end sealing qualification with a home draw against Bosnia. Currently they are on a 16-game unbeaten run which includes friendlies with England, Brazil, USA, Belgium and the most recent game against Germany. France won 2-1 in Bremen and really turned some heads with the dominating performance. Confidence is definitely high during the current run.

What do the French supporters expect of the team during the tournament?

Expectations are quite wide and varied. The disaster that was South Africa 2010 still lives long in the memory for the French fans. There is a hope that they could reach the semi-finals if they can win the group, but the main aim is just to have a trouble free tournament and rebuild the reputation and forget about what happened two years ago.

The performances away from home have been better than when at the Stade de France so the home fans haven’t yet seen the best of this new side, hence the apprehension.

Were there any surprises when the squad was selected?

One positive suprise was the inclusion of Montpellier captain Mapou Yanga M’Biwa. Still uncapped for his country, his superb performances as Montpellier lifted the Ligue 1 title were well deserving of his call up. His selection came in place of PSG captain Mamadou Sakho who missed out due to his poor form in 2012 under Carlo Ancelotti.

The other somewhat surprise inclusion was that of Lyon playmaker Yoann Gourcuff. His season at Lyon has been an overall disappointment but some flashes of the player that won the league with Bordeaux under Blanc in 2009. It seems Blanc has brought him into the squad to get a look at the player close-up. Hoping that he can resurrect the Gourcuff that was superb during Bordeaux’s title season.

Which team would France fear the most out of the other three countries in the group?

The answer would of course be England. With the two top teams in the group coming together in the first game, it is imperative to get off to a good start. France’s impressive win at Wembley has given them confidence against England, and with Rooney out the French expect to start the tournament with a win.

How would you expect France to line up during the tournament?

Blanc has only deviated from 4-2-3-1 once, and it didn’t go well. 

Hugo Lloris 

Mathieu Debuchy – Adil Rami – Philippe Mexes – Patrice Evra 

Yohan Cabaye – Yann M’Vila 

Jeremy Menez – Samir Nasri – Franck Ribery 

Karim Benzema

Who is the key player for France and why?

Karim Benzema is the key to France’s success. Playing the lone front-man role is not the same role that he has played successfully this season for Real Madrid. Benzema likes to drift into the channels and in recent games this has left France a little toothless upfront with all the attacking players trying to fill the same positions on the field.

For France to succeed then Benzema needs to learn to play the lone front-man role in a way which benefits the team. He has enjoyed a superb season with Real Madrid, his confidence is high and if he can bring that to the national side, France could go all the way.

After the final Group D matches on Tuesday 19 June, what will the table look like?

1. France

2. Sweden

3. England

4. Ukraine

Andy Hudson – Sweden:

How have Sweden performed in their friendly games during the lead up to Euro 2012 and during qualifying?

Sweden were awful against Denmark and England. The flowing attacking play that was noticeable during the qualifiers was absent and the team played a rather formulaic 4-4-2 with Ibrahimović and Elmander playing close together. One month; two defeats; plenty of barbed comments from the Swedish media, in particular towards Captain Zlatan.

A change was needed and in February, that change arrived. The 4-2-3-1 was brought back with Ibra in the centre of the three but with the instruction to do as he please. There was added defensive responsibility on the two wide players and Croatia were swept away in Zagreb by a score of 3-1 with Ibra scoring a penalty and playing a key role in both of Seb Larsson’s goals. 

The same tactics were retained as Sweden defeated Iceland in a home friendly the week before the Euros kick-off. Again Ibra played his part and again he played in a free role in the centre of the three. As the Ukraine vs Sweden game approaches, Sweden can be confident that they are now playing well.

What do the Swedish supporters expect of the team during the tournament?

A Quarter Final place will be judged as a success for a team that, on the surface at least, are in a tough group. A good start against Ukraine is a must and supporters are growing more confident as the tournament approaches. Sweden have been in tough groups before and qualified for the next stage – remember the 2002 World Cup when Argentina were eliminated? There’s a cool edge to the team which is also evident in the Swedish fans.

Were there any surprises when the squad was selected?

Two injuries just before the tournament to two forwards brought the biggest surprise when the squad of 23 was announced. John Guidetti, the free-scoring Feyenoord striker, had been expected to light up the tournament but missed out due to an inflamed nerve in a thigh muscle. Johan Elmander, expected to a first choice when fit, broke a metatarsal muscle while playing for Galatasaray. However, Elmander has been included in the squad and is expected to be fit for the opening match against the host nation, Ukraine.

Which team would Sweden fear the most out of the other three countries in the group?

Despite their love of the English game, there’s little fear of England. After all, the two countries seem to be drawn together on an almost irritating regularity. Prior to the November 2011 English victory at Wembley, Sweden last suffered defeat against England way back in 1968. The Sweden that England will encounter in Ukraine will may markedly different to that November evening last year. The 4-4-2 should be gone and Zlatan, long thought of as going missing against English teams, will look to replicate his magnificent Champions League performance for Milan against Arsenal.

So, with no fear of the English, there’s only France and the Ukraine to look at. Home advantage should be the only worry any team has towards Ukraine – with their passionate fans they might be spurred on to greater things than their squad suggests. But I don’t think so.

France will be the one team to fear. And maybe, just maybe, the France of 2010 will amble onto the pitch for the last group match.

How would you expect Sweden to line up during the tournament?

Sweden will play in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Ibra will play in the centre of the three and have attacking instructions only. If Elmander is fit then he will play the forward role and there will be two wide players and two holding midfielders. The once defensive Sweden that many observers will remember from previous tournaments will be replaced with a more flowing, attacking style of play that could cause huge problems for teams that will be rather static (England – I’m looking squarely at you!).

Who is the key player for Sweden and why?

The captain: Zlatan Ibrahimović. The one world class star in the squad and revelling in his new role in the team. But everyone knows about Zlatan.

Sweden have been suspect at the back and they will need their experienced centre-half, Olof Mellberg, to be a tower at times, especially against Andy Carroll in the England game. How Mellberg plays will dictate how the rest of the defence plays. And with a strong defence, Sweden should have enough to see them through the group stage.

After the final Group D matches on Tuesday 19 June, what will the table look like?

1. France

2. Sweden

3. England

4. Ukraine

Inna Pryadko – Ukraine:

With no qualifying games played, how have Ukraine performed in their friendly games during the lead up to Euro 2012?

As Ukraine hadn’t qualified for the World cup 2010 in South Africa we didn’t have official games since November 2009, having played more than 20 friendly matches during this period. Probably the only good thing about them was that our rivals often were top teams: the Netherlands, Brazil, Italy, France, Uruguay, Germany, Сzech Republic. Unfortunately we didn’t win any of these challenging games and sorrowfully conceded four goals against the Сzech and French teams, managing to end games in a draw only with Germany and the Netherlands.

On the other hand, the team went through a lot of changes over these years. Ukrainian coach Oleg Blokhin who had led Ukraine to its best achievement in history (World Cup 2006 Quarter Final) was appointed again just about a year ago. Despite the fact that Blokhin has tried more than 40 players in 10 games since that time, Ukraine seems to play better and better under his guidance. Even not taking in attention most recent victory 16-1 over Turkish Antalyaspor on May 22nd, the last three games against Israel, Austria and Germany (the last two even symbolic as opening games of the new stadiums in Lviv and Kyiv) were bright enough to strengthen the hopes of Ukrainian fans for Euro 2012.

Nevertheless, Blokhin realises the problem of no qualifying games. When I wrote an article about our Group D after the Euro 2012 draw I asked Blokhin to compare the preparation to Euro 2012 with his work as a Ukrainian coach before World Cup 2006. He admitted two main difficulties he faces: a lack of time for him as a coach before the start of the tournament and a lack of official games which can not be replaced really with friendly matches.

What do the home supporters expect of the team during the tournament?

Of course there are great hopes that on the home field Ukraine will manage to qualify from Group D and will continue its struggle as long as possible. Besides, Blokhin is regarded as a lucky coach in general and for the Ukrainian team in particular. From Soviet times there always was a great interest for football in Ukraine, even more widespread now because of Euro, so it’s really an event that could join the entire nation and provide our team with really strong support.

But at the same time a lot of fans feel a kind of realistic or even pessimistic presentiment because of the evident weakening of Dynamo Kyiv – long-term source of players for the national team. Even this time there are nine Dynamo players – the largest group – out of 26 footballers Blokhin has previously invited to the team. And this season was one of the worst for Dynamo which has lost again top place in the national championship, didn’t manage to qualify for the group stage of Champions League and overcome the group stage of Europa League.

Some of the Dynamo players – who are the national team footballers as well – are highly criticised by fans and local media for the non-sports behaviour, passion for night life and money instead of good old traditions of respectful attitude toward Dynamo as Ukrainian legends both on the field and off it. But all experts here in Ukraine are agreed on the fact that Blokhin has enough charisma and authority to motivate players and, secondly, to be unbiased and to give preference for those players who are in good condition indeed despite of their age, surname and the club they are fighting for.

Were there any surprises when the squad was selected?

No. Before the draw a lot of our football experts and former national team players supposed that having Russia in the group would be a problem because of the touch of political confrontation the games between our teams could have (and often have indeed – because of the long-standing issue of Ukrainian dependence on Russia and turning such sport events into a way of demonstrating one’s superiority).

Of course France and England are seen as legendary and almost unconquerable football teams here in Ukraine, but all of the fans realise there are almost no weak teams at this stage of the Euro Championship, so having Germany or Spain as the rivals would be definitely a worse case. Right after the draw Blokhin denied to regard our group as a “group of death”, supporting a more optimistic view of the perspectives of Ukraine on Euro 2012.

Which team would Ukraine fear the most out of the other three countries in the group?

While our football experts like Oleg Salenko (former Dynamo and national team player, top scorer of the World Cup in 1994) tend to see all the three teams including Sweden as almost equal rivals for Ukraine, the common opinion of ordinary fans separate England and France as the most dangerous teams for Ukraine in our group. As the French team seems to have more obvious unsolved problems since the last World Cup, England probably is considered as the top problem for Ukraine.

Anyway, a game against Sweden will be probably the most difficult psychologically because most Ukrainians see Sweden as a rival we should be able to overcome. As the well-known Ukrainian football expert Artem Frankov (editor-in-chief of our most famous football weekly magazine “Football”) told me, “to lose that game will be like a psychological catastrophe”. So even a draw will be a success indeed.

Regarding the opinion of our footballers, my colleague has written an article about the French team last week. He has asked Andrey Nesmachnyi, a recent player of Dynamo and Ukrainian national team, about which team he would call the most dangerous in Group D. Nesmachnyi admitted that it is much more difficult for Ukrainian footballers to play against France because their players often use dribbling and their superiority in techniques as the main ‘weapon’, while the English team tends to perform a more understandable style of game for our players, which is based on an athletic kind of football and position struggle. Statistics confirm his words in some way: we have never won against France, neither in official nor in friendly games, but there was one victory against England in our history.

How would you expect Ukraine to line up during the tournament?

I hope – and do believe – Ukraine can take second place in the group. It would be great to start with a victory in Kyiv and not to lost points against England and France. At the same time we really do rely on the reputation of Sweden as a tenacious team which is able to deprive points from at least one of the favourites of the group. Qualifying from the group will be a definite success and a matter of prestige for Ukraine.

Who is the key player for Ukraine and why?

I would say Andriy Shevchenko is still a moral leader for the team and a kind of famous threat for the opponents, while our real hopes are on the younger generation – upcoming stars like Yevhen Konoplyanka of Dnipro and Andriy Yarmolenko of Dynamo. Despite playing with different clubs they have proved they can play together very effectively in the national team, both being very fast players and having a great potential to sharpen our counter-attacks – probably the main weapon of Ukrainian team’s game style.

Another key player – and our most sorrowful loss at Euro 2012 – is definitely Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, who is an extremely skilful goalkeeper despite his age, always highly motivated and faithful to both Dynamo and the national team. He has got serious trauma saving the goal in an ordinary game of the national championship and is the third Ukrainian goalkeeper out of Euro 2012 after the disqualification of Oleksandr Rybka and Andriy Dikan’s trauma. Andriy Pyatov of Shakhtar will probably play in goal, but this is another problem for Blokhin.

After the final Group D matches on Tuesday 19 June, what will the table look like?

1. England

2. Ukraine

3. France

4. Sweden

The experts:

Iain Macintosh – you may recognise Iain as that man from the telly and the radio as well as from many of the greatest magazines in the world, such as Sports Illustrated, and The New Paper. If you don’t then welcome back from Mars and follow Iain on Twitter @IainMacintosh

Andrew Gibney – Andrew is editor of French Football Weekly and is the French expert for Who Scored. During Euro 2012, Andrew will also be the French expert for Mirror Football. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AGibneyFtbl

Andy Hudson – when not shopping for sil at his local Ikea, Andy is a freelance football writer published in many magazines and newspapers as well as being editor of Blågul Fotboll. During Euro 2012, Andy will also be the Swedish expert for Mirror Football and STV. You can follow Andy on Twitter @HuddoHudson

Inna Pryadko – Inna is a journalist working for the Ukrainian weekly news magazine Korrespondent, a full-colour magazine with a weekly circulation of about 50 000 covering the most important events in Ukraine including football.

3 Responses to “Euro 2012: Group D Preview”
  1. @marcsduffy says:

    Good stuff chaps

    Personally I think France will top the group with Ukraine following closely behind.

    When you take a close look at the squads of all 16 nations, France are in with a great chance to win the lot.

    • Andy Hudson says:

      Why will Ukraine finish second, Marc?

      I think their most important game is the first one against Sweden. If they lose that then the pressure will be too great against France.

  2. @marcsduffy says:

    A number of reasons. First and foremost, teams usually over perform in their own back yard. Secondly they arent a bad side. England are in turmoil and have a squad that is weakened even further every other day (Lasmpard for Henderson would be a huge blow) – Assuming France win the group, 2nd will depend on Sweden v Ukraine – and I see Ukraine sneaking that in Kiev

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

  • © 2012 All content unless otherwise stated is owned by Blågul Fotboll and may not be reproduced without written permission.
  • Contact us: