So, finally, Group D and co-hosts Ukraine will be wanting to put up a decent fight against their established opponents, the rejuvenated France, a new-secure England and the Scandinavian Sweden. Again, we have a potentially open group, England and France play each other to start, meaning the loser will have to re-organisze and come back strong, hard in tournament football with the initial onslaught of 3 games in 8 days pretty tough.
The Ukrainians have had their own fair share of problems, both racial and construction-wise, but they’ll be looking forward to finally kicking off against Sweden on Monday night, after years in wait. It’s a shame they didn’t get the rights the host the tournament within the last decade, when star striker Andriy Shevchenko was one of the world’s best strikers, becoming an AC Milan legend in the process. Whilst ‘Sheva’ was a great player back then, now, at the age of 35, his career is slowly petering out, and he’s let it known that this will be his last few appearances for the national side. His return of 6 goals in 22 games for hometown club Dynamo Kiev, shows the effects recent long-term injuries have had on him, but at least he gets to go out on home soil, in occasions he must be relishing! Bayern’s Anatoliy Tymoshuchuk is the only other recognisable name, in a transitional squad, with nowhere near the squad unity or quality to match the side that reached the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Young Russian-born Andiy Yarmolenko will be looking to assert himself on the side, as he looks to step into the outgoing ‘Sheva’s shoes from July onwards. He’s been effective at teammate Shevchenko’s club Kiev, scoring 12 in 20 games, but for any success to occur they’ll need a combination of the experience and the youth, with manager , ex-hardman Oleg Blokhin, back for his second spell, after the first came with the culmination of the successful World Cup campaign.
England should literally have no chance. A string of injuries have crippled the side so much, that 6 (SIX) of the poor Liverpool side this season have been shoring up the team, a couple deserve to be there on merit (captain Steven Gerrard, and, to an extent, Andy Carroll), whilst some are bizarre choices (Martin Kelly, Stewart Downing, I’m looking at YOU). Manager Roy Hodgson, announced just over a month ago as England boss, has a colossal challenge on hand, but his pair of tight 1-0 victories against a couple of Euro-pretenders (Norway and Belgium) were promising. England were a solid defensive unit, for the first time in a while, despite injuries to, most likely, first choice right-back Kyle Walker, and the controversial John Terry’s preferred partner, club mate Gary Cahill. In my personal opinion, I don’t think Terry should be anywhere near the squad, instead preferring Rio Ferdinand, as both a player and a man. With an upcoming courtcase over the alleged racial slurs to Ferdianand’s brother Anton, the last thing England need is to carry such a player, and Terry isn’t all what he used to be anyway.
Despite what we think, England DO possess strong attacking talent, of all shapes and size. Ashley Young has just come off the back of a mixed season for Manchester United, but his England form remains, being the bright spark in the friendly double. Sure the talismanic Wayne Rooney is out of the first two group games, due to a stupid red card back in Montenegro, but quick, speedy Danny Welbeck and the similarly talented super-sub, Jermain Defoe will be able replacements, along with the target man Andy Carroll, who’s late-season form has seen him spring rivals like Peter Crouch and nab the place in the squad. New captain Steven Gerrard and former captain Scott Parker, provide the defensive shield, that will be needed to overcome the likes of Ibrahimovic, Benzema and Ribery, but we’ve got a good chance of getting out the group.
It may not be pretty, but should Hodgson even get us out of the group, he should be praised, after being given such a short space of time to turn it around.
Sweden are a very constant side, seemingly reaching the summer tournaments, but then struggling to do much. This is mainly due to the lack of players that are able to reach their star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who himself has been criticised for not ‘turning up’ in big games. Seb Larsson and PSV’s Ola Toivonen are both decent players, but nowhere near their karate expert forward’s standard, although their delivery will come in handy for Zlatan to convert any chances they can muster up. Veteran Olof Mellberg, he of the caveman beard, will be looking to shore up a defence that has been the trademark for the team for so long.
Chances are they will be hoovering up on any scraps that the leading two, France and England, leave behind, putting the pressure on the losers of the opener, and giving a tough game to both. As England’s bogey team, we haven’t beaten them competitively EVER, they’ll look to jump on history and surprise Europe, but not necessarily us, and sneak through to the Quarters.
France and Italy have faced similar renovation jobs since disastrous World Cup campaigns just two years ago. Both finished bottom of their respective groups, mustering up just one point each, against the footballing giants of New Zealand and South Africa. France were in considerably dire straights, with a full-on player revolt against hapless coach Raymond Domenech, there was going to be none of that when new man Laurent Blanc came in, and promptly dropped all 23 players from the squad. Some returned (Malouda, Evra and Ribery), some retired (Gallas, Henry and Anelka), whilst new men were blooded into the team. Yann M’Vila, Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye and Adil Rami all made their debuts against Norway in Blanc’s first game, and have all stayed, cementing a strong spine to a squad currently on a 21-match unbeaten run. Karim Benzema is one of the leading charges upfront, after a good season at Madrid, where he has complimented the pure goal machine that is Cristiano Ronaldo, with plenty of goals and assists, looking to carry over his club form for his nation.
They’ll be tough opponents, and could, feasibly, with a bit of luck go all the way. They’ve gone unnoticed in guides like this, no-one really fancying them, but if they overcome the Quarters, then in a one-off game against Germany or Holland, they could give it a good go.
I can only really see France and England escaping from Group D. Ukraine, on paper, seem to be a nothing side, but will their team spirit and unity see them spring a shock? Sweden, have more quality peppered throughout the side, but it ultimately depends on whether the big man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will receive the service he requires to lead them to victory. England have new defensive qualities, that haven’t been so for a long while, Hodgson will do well to get any further than the quarter-finals, but that should be deemed an achievement, given he’s only had the squad for 3 weeks. France, seem to have banished the demons of the last World Cup, and look like the outsiders who have a realistic go at reaching the final, they have a mass amount of talent in midfield, which should safely see them through the group.