Euro 2012 Preview – Group D
In the final blog looking ahead to the 2012 UEFA European Championship, which begins on Friday June 8th, we preview Group D which contains co-hosts Ukraine as well as two-time winners France, England and Sweden.
ENGLAND: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1968, 1996
Despite their status in the international game England still remains one of football’s great underachievers. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the fact that there are so many strong teams in this tournament, why the Three Lions go into Euro 2012 with dampened enthusiasm. Perhaps a downgrade in expectations could actually do the English some good as the pressure to perform in this year’s championship isn’t anywhere near as great as it has been in the last ten years or so. After all England have only ever reached the semi-finals of the European Championships on two occasions and even failed to qualify as recently as 2008. England qualified comfortably from qualifying Group G finishing unbeaten in eight games and topping the table six points ahead of Montenegro. It was against Montenegro, however, that Wayne Rooney picked up his three match ban, which was reduced to two on appeal, which will see him miss the first couple of matches in the tournament. In his absence the likes of Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll will be expected to step up whilst Theo Walcott will also be required to show that he has finally matured into a top class international.
COACH: Roy Hodgson
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 7
FRANCE: Best Performance = Winners 1984, 2000
It now seems like so long ago that the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry et al were setting the world alight with their free-flowing football and winning silverware. Twelve years since they won their second European Championship the French seem to be getting back on track following a turbulent couple of years in which internal strife and splits within the camp took centre stage rather than the action on the pitch. Under Laurent Blanc many fans of les Bleus will hope that they will show hunger and desire as well as purpose. Despite a shock 1-0 defeat the beginning of the campaign the French finished top of qualifying Group D by just a single point over Bosnia & Herzegovina. Franck Ribéry is the centre figure of the French team and with players of the quality of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri around him they will be strong in attack and could score plenty of goals.
COACH: Laurent Blanc
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 16
SWEDEN: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1992
The Swedes will be making their fifth appearance at a tournament finals since they made their debut in 1992. In that year Sweden, in front of their home supporters, reached the semi-finals but were unable to seize the initiative against Germany and went out 3-2. Since then the Swedes have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals and not many expect to see them do so this time. Sweden, it must be mentioned, are a very capable side who are physically strong and resilient at the back. They qualified from Group E just three points behind the Netherlands and didn’t have to take part in the play-offs as they went straight through to the finals on the back of having the best record amongst runners up. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the undoubted major star of the team but much is also expected from 24 year old Rasmus Elm who is attracting some other Europe’s biggest clubs.
COACH: Erik Hamren
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 17
UKRAINE: Best Performance = Winners 1960 (as part of the Soviet Union)
Like their near neighbours Russia, Ukraine was a major contributor to the great Soviet Union sides of yesteryear. Since independence, however, Ukraine has failed to match the expectations of its public having only qualified for one major tournament in the last 16 years (i.e. 2006 FIFA World Cup). As joint hosts Ukraine will, therefore, enjoy its first experience in the European Championships and will fancy their chances of upsetting the big boys in their group. Veteran Andriy Shevchenko is hoping for one last swansong in front of his adoring fans but, whatever happens, it is a fitting stage for the legendary Dynamo Kyiv star to bid farewell to international football. Young stars Yaroslav Rakytyski and Andriy Yarmolenko have the ability to excite and to provide the firepower for Shevchenko and his striking partner Artem Milevskiy.
COACH: Oleg Blokhin
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 50
GROUP D FIXTURES
11/06/12 France v England
11/06/12 Ukraine v Sweden
15/06/12 Ukraine v France
15/06/12 Sweden v England
19/06/12 Ukraine v England
19/06/12 France v Sweden