The German team thought this was their tournament; they thought they were destined to win it. At the end it was another semi-final exit. Kinshuk Biswas analyses their performance in Euro 2012
Germany, one of the pre-tournament favourites of Euro 2012, finished as one of the losing semi-finalists. A great result for other teams but not for the Mannschaft. After losing the final of the 2008 edition and World Cup semi-final to Spain, this team was considered the closest challengers to the Spanish. Eventually the team lost to their old nemesis Italy yet again in the latter stages of a major tournament.
Germany were the only team to qualify with a 100% record in the group stages. In the first match against Portugal they were lucky to come away with a win. They dominated possession and controlled the play but the defence did not look solid with Jérôme Boateng, a converted centre-back playing at right-back, looking shaky. The midfield looked solid but not spectacular. Mario Gomez scored the only goal of the match with a clinical header. Portugal created some good chances with a Pepe shot bouncing on the goal-line after hitting the underside of the bar. However, Germany did look the better team with a more positive outlook in the first match.
The second match, a mouth-watering meeting against the Dutch, was a bit of an anti-climax as the Germans were in a different league outplaying their opponents. The final score of 2-1 was flattering to the Dutch due the plethora of chances missed by Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez. Gomez looked very sharp scoring two more goals. The defence was better but there was a feeling that goals could be scored against Germany with Robin van Persie scoring a nice goal for Holland.
Going into the last match, Germany was in a situation that a win against Denmark would guarantee them the top spot in the group. The manager was forced to make changes in defence, with Boateng suspended, playing Lars Bender at right-back. Lukas Podolski, playing in his 100th match, scored for the Germans. Again Germany conceded a poor goal from a corner kick-off, a Nicklas Bendtner header. The team created chances in the second half before eventually winning by a goal scored by Bender.
The ‘Debt Derby’ and Old Nemesis
The quarter-final match against Greece was the most dominant match played by the German team. The manager had made three changes bringing in the young Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle and the evergreen Miroslav Klose. The Germans finally breached the Greek defence with a superb Philipp Lahm goal. The team conceded a silly goal against the run of play. Stung by the equaliser, the Germans lifted their play to a different level scoring three goals. This was the best the Germans had played in the tournament and looked as the only team which could possibly challenge the Spanish.
The semi-final was against old opponent Italy who had been reborn from the ashes of their disastrous World Cup campaign of 2010. Germany has never beaten Italy in a major tournament losing out on three occasions and drawing thrice in European competitions and World Cups. This time Germans were overwhelming favourites but there was always a sense of déjà vu against the Azzuri. The Germans started brightly with Gianluigi Buffon having to make some spectacular saves in the opening stages. Then Italy took control and Antonio Cassano easily got past the defence in the left wing to provide a perfect cross for Mario Balotelli to score. Balotelli scored a magnificent second goal to give the Italians a comfortable lead. The Germans tried their best to score an early goal in the second half but did not succeed and eventually scored off a penalty in injury time.
Tactics and Retrospection
The tactics of Joachim Löw were not under the scanner as the team was winning. His idea was simple – score goals by attacking play and if we concede goals we can score more. This idea was fine till they played a side with a good defence like Italy who do not concede goals easily. Of course there are days like the final when Italy concede four goals, but those are few and far between. Jerome Boateng, a centre-back being used as a full-back, was a major problem which was brutally exposed against Italy. Löw further got his team selection wrong against Italy. He was moving away from his attacking system which did not work.He selected Toni Kroos as a defensive measure against Andrea Pirlo. Kroos was deployed on the right side of midfield which was again not his normal position. Löw should introspect and understand that for a good team like Germany, reactive tactics and selections based on opponents’ strengths are not a most effective method. Germans should have played to their own strengths rather than worry about the strength of the opposition. The man who tactically decimated the English and the Argentines in the last World Cup, blundered in a very uncharacteristic manner. At the end it was just one match in which Germany was defeated and they can be reasonably pleased with their performance.
Stars and Looking Ahead
Löw has been retained by DFB (German Football Association) as the manager till the next World Cup. He should get his team selection correct. He has the advantage of having a large pool of young players. Mats Hummels was very good and his partnership with Holger Badstuber should continue for a long period, as both of them are only 23 years of age. The team needs to look at Jérôme Boateng’s role as a full-back which was not successful in the tournament. Philipp Lahm may need to play right-back as he does for Bayern and Marcel Schmelzer should be given an opportunity at left-back. Lars Bender can also be made right-back with Lahm continuing his left-back role. Lahm was more effective at right-back for his club than his role as left-back for the national team. Bastian Schweinsteiger was not his usual attacking self in this tournament although his injuries may have played a part. Germany could start using Kroos in his role more as is the practice at Bayern Munich. Podolski looked a shadow of the player he was and with young guns like Schurrle and Reus, impressing his days in the starting XI maybe numbered. Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira both had a good tournament and both being relatively young will figure a lot in the future. Mario Goetze, the German Messi, did not get too many opportunities but should feature more in the coming years. Germany has to look beyond Klose for a second striker as an alternative to Mario Gomez but they can also go the way of using a lot of their attacking midfielders as forwards. The future is looking bright as there is a large number of exciting young talents who will break through. It is all about the team selection and tactics which the Germans should concentrate on and the results will definitely be there.
Spain Writes History
Rarely is there a team that lives up to expectations on a sustained basis. Spain can be easily counted among them as they continue their domination in world football. Indranath Mukherjee sketches their glorious journey in Euro 2012
Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain became the first European nation to win the World Cup outside European soil when they triumphed in South Africa in 2008. Euro 2012 pre-tournament big question was whether they will be the first ever nation to successfully defend the Henri Delaunay trophy. They had a 100% record in the qualification with eight wins from as many games and followed it up with a 5-0 thrashing of Venezuela in a friendly. However, in other friendlies post World Cup 2010, Spain did show glimpses of doubt – losing 4-1 to Argentina, 4-0 to Portugal, 2-1 to Italy and 1-0 to England. But in the matches that matter, Spain’s record under Del Bosque is almost flawless. Although the 61-year old modest and unassuming man as always shun the limelight by giving it to his players: “I feel very privileged to have coincided with a generation of such brilliance”.
Spain came to Euro 2012 as the clear favourites although Juan Castro of Marca thought that “Germany is in a strong position to end the Spanish era.” Netherlands also came to the tournament with a near perfect qualifying round scoring an impressive 38 goals in 10 games with nine wins. Italy also had a terrific run in the qualification campaign and the curious (or spurious) correlation between scandals in their domestic football leagues and success in international tournaments (World Cups 1982 and 2006) had ominous signs for other teams.
Spain had their share of problems with Carlos Puyol and David Villa missing the tournament owing to injury and all the experts thought that due to the indifferent form of talismanic front man Fernando Torres, the Athletic Bilbao target man Fernando Llorente will be at the receiving end of all the chances that the fluent Spanish midfield would create. But Del Bosque preferred tiki-taka over being more direct; as a result Jesus Navas got very little playing time and Llorente did not get any.
Spain’s first group match was against Italy and Del Bosque started with a headless formation. The team started playing a version of tiki-taka which was more about passing the ball to wear the opposition out than creating chances for them. Two numbers from the 2010 World Cup semi-final between Spain and Germany sum up the result of this strategy – Spain had produced 160 passes more and Germany ran 1.2 miles more. The Italians, however, were up for the challenge and played a surprisingly attacking brand of football. The first goal of the match came in the 61st minute when Antonio Di Natale, who came from the bench in place of Mario Balotelli, first touched the ball. Spain was quick to react to get the equaliser through Cesc Fàbregas. The match finished 1-1 with the Italian side a tad more impressive.
Spain approached the second game against Republic of Ireland little differently with scorer of the first game Fàbregas giving way to Fernando Torres in the starting line-up. The impact was immediate; Torres scored his first of the two in the game in the fourth minute. Spain went on to win the match 4-0.
Spain was back to six midfielders and no striker in the final group game against Croatia and played their brand of offensive yet defensive football. Navas who came in as a substitute scored the only goal of the match in the 88th minute.
The quarter-final between Spain and France turned out to be one of the most underwhelming matches of the tournament. Spain continued to play without any striker and Laurent Blanc’s French side looked overcautious to stop Andrés Iniesta while Xabi Alonso celebrated his century of international caps with a goal in either half of the game.
The semi-final between Spain and Portugal was a much awaited affair with the Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo looking to drag his team to the peak. Del Bosque gave a surprise start to the Sevilla front man Álvaro Negredo who remained anonymous until replaced by Fàbregas in the 54th minute. After a not-so-inspiring 90 minutes, Spain did show some flair in the extra time and finally won the game 4-2 on penalties. Del Bosque later revealed that Cesc wanted to take the fifth penalty to be able to take the winner whereas Cristiano Ronaldo who was to take Portugal’s fifth one did not get to take his as the match was already decided.
The penalty of the tournament until this game was the atrocious Panenka by Andrea Pirlo against England in the quarter-final. Sergio Ramos, whose penalty in the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich had reached outer space as per rumour, did a Panenka with élan.
The final was all where it started in Group C. By then not everyone was convinced about Spain and Italy looked solid as ever with a complete demolition of the Germans in the semi-final where even the postman celebrated. Italy started the game well and before David Silva scored the first goal in the 14th minute, they actually looked almost equal to Spain, if not marginally better. Spain started with the now usual headless formation but their football was sharper, more attacking version of tiki-taka with an interesting mix of direct football. Jordi Alba’s brilliant strike in the 41st minute came from a brilliant Xavi Hernández through and by that time Italy was completely down and out. Spain added further assault when the substitute Torres scored in the 84th minute and finally Juan Mata, who came in as a substitute in the 87th minute, scored with his first touch. The final result 4-0 is an ample testimony of Spain’s supremacy in international football today.
The current Spain side shows that success indeed breeds success. Up until Euro 2008, they were tagged as the serial underachievers of international football. But with the golden generation of footballers and a strong belief in their brand of football, Spain became the second team to win three successive major tournaments after Argentina who had won the Copa America (then called the South American Championships) in 1945, 1946 and 1947. As Juan Mata put it succinctly, “There’s a real faith in the approach now; the legacy of victory is a confidence for the future too”.
What is even bad news for other footballing powerhouses worldwide is that the current Spanish team does not show any sign of slowing down. Barring Xavi, no one’s on the wrong side of 30 and we may well find the same bunch of players in the forthcoming World Cup 2014 in Brazil, unless they get replaced by even better ones – only to make them a more unbeatable lot. Although the possibility is not an overtly optimistic one, the Spanish supply line is in full throttle. Their Under-19 team just won the UEFA European championship barely a week ago.
Portugal – Bright Future Ahead
Goalden Times had classified Portugal as one of the dark horses of Euro 2012. Their performance in the tournament vindicates that. Debojyoti Chakraborty reports
Pitted against two star-studded sides in the group stages, not many in Portugal were that much optimistic of a good campaign at the Euro 2012. A few decent players and quite a few completely unknown to the vast majority of football fans worldwide; looking up to ‘The One’ aka Cristiano Ronaldo for inspiration – it was not a script that looked rosy before the tournament started. Moreover, Portugal had not fared well at the 2010 World Cup. More than their results, what disappointed fans the most was their pathetic football which lacked any sort of ambition and imagination under Carlos Queiroz.
The current manager Paulo Bento was not having a happy time either. Defender duo of Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa refused to play for the Seleccao under him during the build-up of the tournament. Over-reliance on CR7 for goals was heavily criticised. But Bento had a vision and he stuck to it. He did not hesitate to start with Rui Patricio ahead of established shot stopper Eduardo and Patricio paid back his manager’s faith by having a brilliant tournament.
Things started pretty badly for Portugal. Not many eyebrows were raised to see Germany beating them 1-0 on matchday 1. But Denmark’s victory over the Dutch made life very difficult for the Seleccao in the Group of Death. In the second match, Portugal made life difficult for themselves against the Danes and had to rely on a last gasp winner from Silvestre Varela to clinch a 3-2 thriller. In the final group match against Netherlands, Portugal needed to at least match Denmark’s result against Germany to progress through. Things looked gloomy for them as Rafael van der Vaart put Netherlands ahead in a must-win-and-hope-for-other-results match for the Oranje. This is when Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been heavily criticized and mimicked for his performance so far in the tournament, came on to his own. His scintillating performance, cupped with a brace, put Portugal through to the knockout stages of Euro 2012.
The best footballer in the continent put up another brilliant display to seal a berth for the semis as his goal was the difference between Portugal and Czech Republic in the quarter-final match. They were unfortunate to bow out against Spain in the penalty shoot-out in the semi-final, but nevertheless they have left a lasting impression. Ronaldo may ponder over his whole life what might have been had he not held himself back for the last penalty kick (which was not required!). But he certainly had a very good tournament to be proud of, both as an individual and as the captain of a young and ambitious team.
The results were encouraging and Portugal impressed one and all. Ronaldo took the responsibility and besides his goals and hitting the framework numerous times, charmed football lovers with his play. Joao Moutinho emerged as the star performer for them and looks set to improve as time passes by. Among youngsters, Patricio and defender Fabio Coentrao stood out and they should be nurtured with care for future development.
The core of this team is expected to remain the same for the next few years. Captain charismatic Cristiano Ronaldo does not look like slowing down – why should he, he is only 27 after all – and he will be motivated to win a silverware for his country after winning all-there-is-to-be-won at the club level. Pepe at the back and the midfield trio of Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles will also be around in full throttle for some more years to come. Few players may come in and go out as part of natural footballing cycle but the team seems to be on the right track.
One man looking certain to remain with the team is Paulo Bento. Amidst all the controversies before the start of the campaign, he has shown that he knows how to handle pressure. He has stuck to his principles – not selecting disinterested players – and decisions – starting with second choice goalkeeper – and has taken full responsibility for the outcome. He has galvanized the team well and has brought back an attacking flair to the team’s play. This is a commendable impact considering he only took over in the qualifying stages when things did not look all that bright.
He, though, has plenty of work to do. His work list ought to start with finding a decent central striker. Ronaldo seems more effective if given a free roaming role. He can start wide but would naturally drift in, drop back and can create havoc in the opponent camp more often than not. For that to happen, Portugal badly needs a world class target man up front but the options are not that great. One only hopes some youngsters would develop in the next couple of years to bolster the Samba party. Portugal team seems comfortable playing a traditional 4-3-3 formation. But as the modern trends unfold, this strategy may lose out to the midfield battle against a strong team playing 4-2-3-1 (as seen against the Germans). But Bento cannot try out this new look, at least for now, as he does not have a Number 10 to dictate the game (a la Rui Costa).
In back-to-back major tournaments, Spain has proved to be the nemesis for Portugal. But the similarity ends here. If World Cup 2010 was a horror show, Euro 2012 has been the complete opposite. Fans back home and across the globe should not be disheartened with the showings from a young team. They started and ended their campaign with defeats – not too bad considering they were playing against the two top ranked teams in the tournament – but they sandwiched some praiseworthy performances in between. It was good till it lasted; Portugal will certainly hope to make it better next time.
Unfinished Business Between Portugal and Spain
Semi-final: Portugal vs. Spain
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
20:45CET (21:45 local time)
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Both teams last met in a competitive fixture at the 2010 World Cup, Spain knocking the Portuguese out with a 1-0 win. Portugal will be hoping to avenge that loss though the two teams met in a friendly in Lisbon in November 2010, the Portuguese trouncing La Roja by 4-0. Spain have met Portugal 34 times, winning 16 and losing just six. Interestingly, 14 of Spain’s 16 wins took place before 1960. A Selecção and La Furia Roja have met three times in major tournaments, winning one apiece.
Spain have a wonderful record under Vicente Del Bosque having won 31 out of 34 competitive games under the former Spanish footballer. The Spaniards have kept a clean sheet in each of their last eight knockout games in major finals, employing the “attack is the best form of defence” strategy. Spain have conceded just one goal so far at Euro 2012. With the attacking trio of Iniesta, Silva and Xavi in their arsenal, the Spaniards are a formidable team. Their tiki-taka style has seen them notch a total of 2623 passes so far, doubling Portugal’s tally of 1159. Five of Spain’s eight goals have come in the last 30 minutes of play.
In Portugal’s fourth semi-final appearance at the European Championship finals, they will be looking to harness the brilliance of star player Cristiano Ronaldo in their quest for a final berth. They have managed to reach the final once, on home soil in 2004 losing to Greece. The Portuguese have hit the woodwork six times in this year’s tourney and four of the six shots were via Cristiano Ronaldo’s boots. Since condemning Spain to their heaviest defeat in 47 years in their 4-0 victory, not much has changed in both teams since. Portugal had nine players that started in their win over Czech in that game. Spain on the other hand are expected to start with eight of the players that faced Portugal in that 4-0 defeat.
The Spanish will take fortress in frustrating the Portuguese with their passing style, breaking the defence open in the process. Portugal will most likely defend in large numbers, waiting for the perfect opportunity to hit on the break. Ronaldo will be vital to any chances of Portugal progressing and chances are that if he doesn’t show up, it’s goodbye Portugal. Ronaldo though will be largely motivated for this in the battle for supremacy with Argentina’s Lionel Messi, the FIFA Ballon d’Or at stake.
La Roja have started Fabregas as a ‘false 9’ twice in a 4-3-3 setup and it remains to be seen whether Del Bosque will go with that approach again. He’s likely to begin with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Torres as the lone striker with little or no changes to the starting lineup.
For the first time in the tournament, Paulo Bento will be forced to change his starting line-up due to Postiga’s injury. Postiga suffered a thigh injury in their 1-0 win over the Czech Republic. Besiktas’ Hugo Almeida is set to deputise in his place. Putting that aside, the starting lineup is expected to remain intact in a 4-3-3 formation.
Portugal’s efficiency in their flank play with Nani and Ronaldo will be influential. Expect Nani and Ronaldo to run riot down the flanks, trying to take advantage of a possible Spain high defensive line. Spain will most likely dominate possession, working their way to unravelling the Portuguese defence. While Spain will be looking to become the first team to win three consecutive major international tournaments, Portugal are aspiring to reach their first major final since their heartrending loss to Greece at the Euro 2004 finals. It promises to be an interesting encounter.
“We have ambition and courage. We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents and our aim is not to defend all the time. We won’t do that against the world and European champions. I think they know we can cause them problems.” – Portugal manager, Paulo Bento
“We have to take notice of Ronaldo. He’s an excellent player and it’s logical that there’s so much talk about him.” – Spain manager, Del Bosque’s on Portugal’s star player.
England try to do an Italian job with ‘Catenaccio’
Quarter Final: Italy vs Ireland
Friday, 24 June 2012
2045 (local time); 1445(EST); 0015(IST)
Stadion NSK Olimpiyskiy, Kiev
The final quarter final of the Euro is on us and it is probably the only quarterfinal with no clear favourite. In a way both the teams are on their own way trying to come out of a rut. On one side, Italy, under Cesare Prandelli, is trying to rebuild from the shambles of 2010 world cup and Prandelli is building in essence for the 2014 world cup and 2012 Euros is probably a milestone in how much progress he has made with this team. Holding Spain to a 1-1 draw was probably as good as any team has played against Spain in any of the matches Spain has played in major tournaments since 2008. England on the other hand have been forced to rebuild with a new manager and new personnel due to events that were least expected 6 months back.
Roy Hodgson has taken a team that is unspectacular and workmanlike. Roy has shaped his team’s mentality, from the maxim that he must have learnt while managing in Italy – You don’t lose if you don’t concede. England has all been about not conceding, sitting deep and defending with 8 men at times. Their defensive cohesiveness was praiseworthy but they conceded twice from set pieces to Sweden and that remains a big weakness. For their goals too England has depended on set pieces so this will be one of the key match-up points for the tie. The Italians though have, arguably, more quality in the midfield and has also been more hardworking – England covered 152km in their group matches (3rd best in the group), Italy did 208 km in their group matches (2nd best in the group).
But Italy has shown their Achilles heel in each of the 3 matches – getting tired and worn out after 60 minutes and while this may or may not be linked to the fitness of Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s metronome, it is something that the English would like to utilise. But England themselves have been poor in large tracts of their matches and possibly wouldn’t even have qualified if not for a glaring refereeing error. In the end, England would probably be playing the more waiting game, trying to wear Italy out while Italy will try to finish the matches in scheduled time. But given how no match has finished goalless in this glorious tournament and no tiebreaker has happened; expect a tiebreaker after a goalless 120 minutes.
Roy’s strategy could well be keep it tight at the back, playing on the counter and then unleash Theo Walcott’s pace at the tiring Italian backline. Italy would instead hope to score at least twice in those first 60 minutes. They have managed to score once in each of their matches in those 60 minutes. The trick will be holding on. Italy didn’t hold on to their leads beyond 60th minute in 2 of their matches.
Teams & Formations
Pirlo and Gerrard are probably playing their last major tournament and both have been magnificent for their teams, scoring goals and assisting them. Both these iconic players have one mercurial forward – Rooney and Cassano, who can score goals out of nowhere. The big talking point though is how Mario Balotelli will do. We all know the talent he possesses. We are also know how big a problem he can be. The Mario that turns up tomorrow will determine which team progresses on to face Germany.
The other point is if Italy will go with a 3 man defence or with a conventional 4 men one. This is key as Chiellini is going to miss this match with injury. Similarly England face the dilemma of if to play Welbeck with Rooney or pump for Carroll in attack. Carroll gives a different dimension to the English, especially in the light of Chiellini’s absence. But Welbeck has been probably the best England attacker in the tournament and would sneak ahead of Carroll.
Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli; Christian Maggio, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Federico Balzaretti; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
England (4-4-2): Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker, Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck
Manager: Roy Hodgson
“It will certainly be close because the sides have very similar qualities, and also because Italy have a habit, which is both a pro and a con, that whoever we play – whether our opponents are strong or weak – it’s always an even contest. If we play against the best, we match them, but if we play against weak sides we never manage to win with ease. We always have to struggle a bit, so I think the difference between the two sides will be very, very, very, subtle indeed.”
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy Goalkeeper and Captain.
“The closer you get, obviously you start realising that maybe there’s a chance we can go and do something really special. In saying that, football has a tendency to sting you when you start getting carried away, so we need to realise our main focus and that’s Sunday.”
Scott Parker, England midfielder and 2011 Player of the Year
Ibra shows his class as Les Bleus scrape through
Sweden vs France 2-0 (Ibrahimovic, Larsson,)
France, ever since their runner-up finish in the 2006 WC final, a match many believe they should have won, has not made big in any tournament they have played in. And the reasons are aplenty – complacence, a generation shift, lack of killer instinct, inability to win crucial moments in matches. All the reasons were on display against Sweden against whom they put up, to put it mildly, a mediocre performance. That they were still able to make it through is due to some luck, as England did not lose to hosts Ukraine
On the other hand, Zlatan Ibramohovic played probably his last Euro Cup match, and left in a blaze of glory, scoring in the 56th minute with a magnificent volley from the edge of the box. Yes, Sweden in the end managed to win just 1 match and finished 4th, but there is a feeling that had they finished better, they might as well have won all their matches and finished group champions. Ukraine’s departure on the other hand, kept the issue alive – should UEFA allow only 1 country to host Euro, and let a 15th team qualify?
Ever since Zizou left, many say France lack a leader – a leader like Diego or a Klinnsman, a man with a halo around his head, a man around whom legends can be woven. And on the night, they started off soporific, with a blunder as early as the 3rd minute when Olsson floated a cross into the French Box and Mexes and Clichy stood admiring it. A few minutes later, Ribery shot a weak one into Isaksson with only the goalie to beat. Ben Arfa seemed unable to recover from a shock that he was actually in the starting line-up and ran around a bit before hitting an aimless one over the bar. France’s pathetic half was rounded off when Nasri kicked himself as Benzema had come down to retrieve balls himself.
In the second half, after some lazy display upfront from Les Bleus, Sweden counter-attacked, and one of them produced the gem of the night – Ibra scoring off Larssen’s cross, and Lloris didn’t even get a finger to it. In the meanwhile, Rooney had scored for England, and France had taken their first steps to meet La Rojas in their next round. Nasri was finally replaced by Menez, a risk, considering Menez is on a yellow card, and this brought some purpose upfront as France stormed the Swede citadel in search of an equalizer. However, the Swedes got their second against the run of play as Wilhelsmson first won a free kick and then hit the post, the rebound seeing Larsson putting it into the net.
What next for the teams
Sweden will go back after having restored some confidence with a win vs. 1998 World Cup winners. They will need all that and more – after all their next opponents the team France beat in the 1998 final – Brazil. France scraped through, and plays a team in red hot form – Spain. However, they will need to play way better than they did vs. Sweden to fancy their chances against overwhelming favorites and the defending champions. And Blanc must rethink his strategy when he keeps on saying he won’t play a 4-4-2 formation, because at the end of the tournament, he might still remain the last batch of Frenchmen to win a big trophy.
Sweden (4-4-2): Isaksson, Granqvist, Mellberg, J. Olsson, M. Olsson, Svensson, Kallstrom, Larsson, Ibrahimovic, Bajrami, Toivonen.
France (4-3-3): Lloris, Debuchy, Rami, Mexes, Clichy, Nasri, Diarra, M’vila, Ben Arfa, Benzema, Ribéry
“Right now I have quite mixed feelings. We should be content after today’s victory; we were up against a strong team, because they hadn’t been beaten in 23 games. This shows what we were up against. We gave an incredibly good performance. We created a small margin which we perhaps didn’t in the matches before, and you need those in order to win matches.” – Erik Hamren
“We need to stay optimistic; we didn’t make things easy for ourselves. It is not the easiest thing to play Spain at the moment, we have to be rested and need a really good performance to beat them.”- Laurent Blanc
Croatians Return Home with their Heads held High
Croatia 0 – 1 Spain(Navas 88)
Croatia’s brave display against La Roja still wasn’t sufficient to earn them a draw as they were wasteful in front of goal. After Spain’s dominant display against Ireland, one could not have foretold the below-par performance La Roja put up at the Gdansk Arena. Fans had to brook a poor display for most parts of the game before Jesus Navas put the Spaniards a goal up to allay fears. Aftermath of their group stage exit meant early exit for coach Slaven Bilic who had already declared that he would resign from the post at the end of the tournament. The result cemented Spain’s status as group C winners with Italy securing runner-up position via a 2-0 win over Ireland in the other group game.
Slaven Bilic lined his troops in a 4-2-3-1 formation, sacrificing Everton striker Nikica Jelavic in the process. Dinamo Zagreb fullback Domagoj Vida replaced Darijo Srna at right back position. Pranjic replaced Ivan Perisic to form a triad of Pranjic, Modric and Darijo Srna behind Mandzukic as the lone striker with Rakitic and Vukojevic in front of the defence. On the other hand, Vicente Del Bosque’s side paraded the same starting line-up and formation in their 4-0 defeat of England.
A 2-2 draw would have ensured qualification for both sides. Darijo Srna and Iker Casillas led their teams as captains in a dandy atmosphere in Gdansk. The game kicked-off and settled into Spain controlling possession and Croatia pressurising the Spaniards to hit on the break. The game was halted briefly in the 7th minute because of the presence of a flare on the pitch which befogged Casillas’ goal. On 12 minutes, an array of carefully knitted passes culminated in an opening for Iniesta whose shot was held by Pletikosa. Srna’s intentional foul on Alba on 19 minutes was accompanied by a stern warning from Wolfgang Stark. Croatia’s game plan was pretty clear; drop deep in large numbers to win the ball then hit Spain on the break. Fernando Torres’ attempt on goal from the right side of the box was blocked by Pletikosa. Ramos unleashed a shot from thirty yards a minute later which Pletikosa smothered. Pique’s ambitious effort from range whistled over the bar. Pranjic’s shot on 26 minutes wasn’t a problem for Casillas. Mandzukic blazed over seconds later from a Srna pass. Brilliant play from Mandzukic a minute later ended in penalty appeals which the referee waved. Mandzukic outwitted Pique and glided into the box only for Ramos to take him out with a strong tackle without winning the ball. Vedran Corluka picked up a booking for arguing with the referee. Silva’s volley on the edge of the box after some enterprising play was too tame to trouble Pletikosa. Spain continued to enjoy possession, showcasing lovely passing but they were reduced to half chances. It ended 0-0 at half time with news of Cassano putting the Italians ahead in Poznan.
It was a positive start from the Blazers after the restart who earned an early corner that was swung towards Corluka but he was penalised for a foul on Pique. Ivan Strinic was booked for a shove on Silva. Croatia had a great chance to take the lead in the 59th minute. Modric broke down the right and cut inside before crossing for an unmarked Rakitic who nodded at Casillas from six yards out. Del Bosque replaced the disappointing Fernando Torres with Jesus Navas. In a bold move, Bilic sent Jelavic and Perisic into the game to replace Pranjic and Vida. Spain continued to pass the ball around without really having a clear-cut chance as the Croatians defended expertly. On 79 minutes, Spain were presented with a great opportunity. Four on four on the Counter attack, Croatia’s backline was finally exposed but Busquets allowed Srna to win the ball with a perfectly timed sliding tackle. With 10 minutes to go, it became end to end action, the Croatians changing to a high defensive line in a bid to get a goal. Their strategy change allowed Spain to be finally released from the half cut chances they were reduced them to. Former Arsenal striker Eduardo was introduced into the game in place of Vukojevic. Croatia needed a goal but it was Spain who got their goal through Navas two minutes from full time. A ball over the back four found Iniesta. The Barcelona midfielder evaded the offside trap to square the ball to Navas. Navas slotted the ball coolly into an empty net.
POST MATCH THOUGHTS
Croatia did brilliantly to keep Spain at bay for most part of the game and couldn’t have done much more than that other than take their chances. They could have claimed a draw had they not had to come all out in search of a goal. Slaven Bilic has the tough group stage draw to rue.
“I don’t see them as the really big favourites. There are quite a few teams that maybe have more pace and are hungry to win and maybe more aggressive on the pitch than Spain.” – Slaven Bilic on Spain’s chances of success in the tournament.
“We suffered.” -Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.
Seven Points on the Match
England 1 Ukraine 0
Ukraine must have felt being let down by the match officials when they were denied a legitimate goal last night but to be honest they have only the players to blame for the early elimination from the tournament. In spite of being the better team for major part of the match, they simply didn’t take their chances that came their way. It is true that absence of Andriy Shevchenko upfront was a major loss for them but then again, you cannot count on a single player to carry you every other day.
Roy Hodgson must be a overjoyed man after his team topped Group D. At the same time, he must be knowing how much England has to improve if they want to progress beyond the next match. Hodgson’s strategy from the start of the tournament clearly has been based on a solid defensive organization. But the way his defence was shaky at times against last night specially against crosses from the wide areas must been noticed by Cesare Prandelli, he will definitely be looking to capitalize over them. Although these are early days under his coaching, but Hodgson has to take some measure to close the loop-holes in his defensive line otherwise his honeymoon period won’t last long.
Tactically speaking, Ukraine was clearly the better team though the result suggests other. At times, the barrage of Ukraine attacks clearly unsettled the English. In the midfield, it was mainly the job of Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to supply ammunitions for the forwards. Although personally Gerrard is having a good tournament with assists in all the three games, his combination with Scott Parker was not been able to dictate the game. The English midfield was too predictable and lack of improvisation from the wide players didn’t allow them to build up a sustained pressure on the Ukraine defence, mostly aerial route became their favoured way of attack. On the otherhand, Ukraine were able to spread their game to the wings and switch the flanks regularly. Their wingers Konoplayanka and Yarmolenko proved to be handful for the English defence and were a treat to watch. Had the two strikers be more clinical, the result would have changed.
A lot was written about Wayne Rooney’s return before the match. Although his goal separated the two sides, clearly Rooney didn’t play the way he does week in week out for Manchester United. In the first half, he was a pale shadow of himself and without much support from midfield, it was difficult for him to get going. In the second half, he improved but still English fans will like to see for more of the club form that makes him such a dangerous player. He has to link up with the midfield and make others play around him, his understanding with Danny Welbeck was almost non-existant.
Ukraine people will be disappointed for their early exit from the tournament. They must have expected more specially as they are one of the host this time but they must be realistic of what to expect from their team. Given the potential available to Oleh Blokhin, it was difficult to for him to guide the team past the group stage. However, the fans must stand beside their team as the way Ukraine played a spirited football has surprised many. Except the France match, players gave their heart out and with a little bit of luck, they could have reached quarter-final stage. This team can thrive in the future, with proper injection of young talents and sticking to their football philosophy they will alight the international stage. This tournament will be remembered for Ukraine’s favourite son ‘Sheva’ as this was his swansong tournament. The way he turned back the times against Sweden will be always cherished by his fans.
Probably no English fans expected the Three- Lions to top the group at the start with some even fearing a group stage exit. So they must be elated with this showing so far and hordes of fans will be on their way to give support in the quarterfinal. Italy awaits the English there and are a different proposition to what they have faced till now. Cesare Prandelli’s side will be very difficult to beat and has wide range of options to test English resilience. Wayne Rooney has to get back to self and the rest team has to improve if they want to go past the Azzuri.
Last but not the least, goal line controversy again makes a comeback in a major international tournament that too in a England game (‘Why always them ?’), although this time English fans will be happy as they enjoyed the fruits of the wrong decision. Marko Devic’s goal clearly crossed the line entirely but goal was never given. So again the hue and cry for goal line technology arises and it is to be seen when FIFA finally gives the green light with Sepp Blatter already declaring goal-line technology now a “necessity”.
“I don’t think it’s a case of us over-performing — we’re just performing to the level we’re capable of.To do well against the teams you come up against here — 16 fantastic teams — you need to play well.”
“ England only had a few set pieces. We had lots of shots on target, but we weren’t lucky.”
Interestingly, Last Day Syndrome has been a characteristic of the group stages in the current edition of the European Championship. Each of the four groups would know its top two team at the end of the corresponding final ‘match day’. In group D, fierce battle waits the four teams to decide who will go through to the quarter-final stage. In Donetsk, the Three Lions will face the host Ukraine knowing that a draw will be enough for them. On the other hand, Ukraine will require an outright win to proceed to the last eight stage. However, English coach Roy Hodgson is pragmatic enough to know that aiming for a draw against the Ukrainians will be a dangerous gamble to play with. Although they drew a blank against the French, Ukraine was quite enthralling against Sweden with their ‘Sheva’ in scintillating form. England too was listless against France with only showing some sort of form against the Swedes. As pre-match reports are emerging, the two teams are facing contrasting fortunes. In this match, Hodgson will be very happy to welcome back his number One hitman Wayne Rooney who returns after serving his suspension. But Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin may have to send out his team in this vital game without the talismanic Andriy Shevchenko who is down with a knee problem. With so much up for grabs, this tie can’t be devoid of drama. It will take a lot from set of players to decide their fate. Blokhin has called upon his boys to give their everything on the pitch till the last minute in quest for the desired result. Belief seems to go up in the English camp after the Sweden win, now it is to be seen how the express themselves during the match. Bursting at the crucial moment has always been a thorn for England.
TEAMS AND STRATEGY:
Although Rooney will be back in the reckoning for the match, it will be quite interesting to see how Hodgson will incorporate him in the team. It is always a bit risky to alter a winning combination especially in a tournament but at the same time, leaving Rooney on bench will be unfathomable given the lack of cutting edge in attack of the team so far. So Hodgson will have to leave out either of Andy Carroll or Danny Welbeck on the bench and in all probability he will go for Rooney-Welbeck combination as the pair already has a thriving understanding at Manchester United. Another vital decision will be whether to start with Walcott who was excellent last match or stick with James Milner as the right-sided midfielder. Although Milner was quite ordinary in the first two matches, it seems Hodgson will persist with him as Walcott’s lack of defensive awareness won’t be suitable for team’s tactics. Instead Hodgson will look continue to look at Walcott as an impact substitute and will bring him in later stages of the match according to situation. The central defence too need to be tighter as they were responsible for the two goals conceded last match and the midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Scot Parker has to continue their hard work.
PROBABLE XI : Joe Hart ; Glen Johnson , John Terry , Joleon Lescott , Ashley Cole ; Steven Gerrard , Scot Parker , James Milner , Ashley Young ; Wayne Rooney , Danny Welbeck
Oleg Blokhin said that he will wait till the last moment for Shevchenko who will be a vital cog in his plan to stifle the English force. If ultimately Sheva is not available, Blokhin will turn to either of Artem Milevskiy or Marko Devic .Rest of the Ukraine team will remain the same like the last two matches. Both Ukraine and England aren’t too expert in keeping possession and a more direct game will be on display. In konoplayanka and Yarmolenko, Ukraine have two speedy wingers who will bomb forward at every opportunity. Another vital role will be given to Andrey Voronin who was excellent in the first match against Sweden. He will work his socks off trying to link between the midfield and the striker. The Captain Anotoliy Tymoshchuk will be trying to curb Rooney’s playmaking effort in his role of defensive midfielder. If Ukraine can find their rhythm similar to their first match, they will prove to be quite an handful for the English team who are the favourite going into the match.
PROBABLE XI : Andriy Pyatov ; Yevhev Selin,Yevhen Khacheridi,Taras Mykhalyk, Oleh Husyev; Anatoliy Tymoshchuk , Serhiy Nazarenko,Yevhen Konoplyanka,Andriy Yarmolenko; Andrey Voronin , Andrey Shevchenko ( Marko Devic/Artem Mievskiy)
“ England are among the favourites, so the pressure’s on them”
Oleg Blokhin on his opponents
“He’s a world-class player and I can see it in his eyes that he’s itching to get out there and perform. He could, hopefully, make the difference.”
Roy Hodgson on Rooney’s return
French Quality Too Much for the Hosts
Ukraine 0-2 France
(Jeremy Menez 53, Yohan Cabaye 56)
France weathered a violent storm to defeat Ukraine at the Donbass Arena. Torrential downpour altered the game for almost an hour but play resumed as the fans were treated to a spectacle.
Surprisingly, Oleg Blokhin made no changes to his starting line-up. Nazarenko dropped deep to pair with Tymoshchuk in front of the defence. Voronin who was stationed behind Shevchenko had Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko on either side of him operating on the flanks. Laurent Blanc switched from the 4-3-3 formation he employed in his team’s opener against England to a more effective 4-2-3-1. In the defence, Clichy was brought in to replace Evra on the left and in attack, Nasri replaced Malouda. Nasri though was moved from his flank role against England to the middle where he orchestrated play behind Benzema.
The game began amidst the rains and the first moment of drama took place during the national anthems via a sudden clap of thunder. After five minutes, Dutch referee took the bold step to halt play when the rains had aggravated to pelting on the playing surface. The close proximity between the lightning and the thunder was enough to instigate a precautionary measure by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers. The worst of the storm passed and in no time the waterlogged pitch was effectively drained.
Play restarted and Ukraine did just enough to assimilate France’s attacking pressure. The guileful French attackers roamed the pitch switching positions at different times. Benzema cut inside and had a pop from distance to test Pyatov who comfortably palmed the ball away. Both teams continually found a lot of space on the counter. On 15 minutes, Benzema did well to get in between the two centre-backs and knocked the ball back with a header but no team mate made a run towards the ball. A minute later, Menez got on the end of a delightful pass from Samir Nasri and wasted no time in slotting the ball at the back of the net. The linesman’s flag came to Ukraine’s rescue as the goal was ruled offside. A motivated Ukraine kept France at bay with a series of strong challenges. The Ukraine defence being mean to Benzema in particular. On 26 minutes, Ribery robbed Nazarenko of the ball but his pull-back to Menez was laid to waste by the Paris Saint-Germain attacker. Tymoshchuk’s misguided pass in the 28th minute found Ribery who burst down the left. His intercepted cross for Benzema fell straight to Menez but the goalkeeper made a brave block to keep the score level. Talisman Shevchenko had his chance in the 33rd minute. His shot from an angle did little to disturb Hugo Lloris. Minutes later, an intervention by Phillipe Mexes spared Benzema’s blushes. Mexes’ header forced an excellent save from Pyatov before the break.
Oleg Blokhin made half-time changes to his team, Marko Devic replacing Andriy Voronin. France started the second half strongly and a couple of last-ditch interceptions prevented them from going in front. Shevchenko’s powerful shot missed the target by inches as the Ukranians delivered a threat from a counter-attack. France took the lead through Menez on the 53rd minute. Benzema’s pass to him was expertly controlled before firing a low shot into the bottom right corner of the post. End-to-end stuff ensued as a result. The Ukrainians came out to find an equaliser but they were punished as Les Blues got a second goal from Yohan Cabaye. Benzema again was the provider, He dazzled away from his marker to thread a ball into the path of Cabaye whose shot whistled past the helpless Pyatov. The goal demotivated the Ukrainians and France became in total control. Cabaye hit the post amongst a flurry of chances for France but the scoreline stayed 2-0. The full-time whistle was accompanied by a chorus of boos from supporters of the home side.
POST MATCH THOUGHTS
The result leaves Ukraine with three points, one short of England and France who top the group meaning they can still qualify mathematically. It’s an extremely unlikely scenario though for the reason that they face a more superior England side in the final group game. Oleg Blokhin’s side need to play through Shevchenko more often if they are to have any chance of qualifying. They also need to work on their finishing seeing that they wasted a lot of chances in this one. They only had a shot on target out of nine tries. France on the other hand will be brimming with confidence after a dominant display. Laurent Blanc’s change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 proved effective so he is expected to stick with that in subsequent matches. Alou Diarra once again bossed the midfield was and was a rock in front of the defence. He started in France’s first game due to injury to Yann M’Vila but now he is close to indispensable. Expect Laurent Blanc to preserve faith in him. France face Sweden in their last group game, a win which is very feasible as the Swedes are the whipping boys of the group with no points to their name.
“I warned the lads that the match against Sweden meant little. Some of the players were thinking they were already in the quarter-finals.” – Ukraine Manager, Oleg Blokhin on Ukraine’s loss.
“Ménez has a quality that none of Ribéry, Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa or Mathieu Valbuena truly possess. He has the speed and the power to run in behind and hurt defences. That’s a rare quality.”- France Manager, Laurent Blanc showering praises on Menez.
The Blues fail to conquer their blues
Italy 1 – 1 Croatia
39″ Andrea Pirlo (1-0), Mario Mandzukic 72″ (1-1)
Traditional giants Italy was left in danger of catching an early flight home as Croatia (who has never lost to Italy after gaining independence from Yugoslavia) held on for a gritty 1-1 draw in a Group-C encounter at Poznan. In the process, Croatian scorer of the day Mario Mandzukic equaled the national record for highest number of goals, hitherto held by Davor Suker. But before that, Italy looked all set for a comfortable victory after having being given the lead via a moment of brilliance by Andrea Pirlo
The match didn’t begin at the blistering pace as expected from the pre-match hype. After all, in only their last match, both the teams had played a super-attacking brand of soccer. And contrary to what many experts said, Mario Balotelli did find a place in the starting line up ahead of De Natale. Balotelli started off with a 3rd minute shot at the goal. On the other hand, Croatia hoping for a quick start saw Mandzukic concedes a free kick for a foul on Chiellini
Croatia’s most capped player and captain Srna made a few set piece attacks, one of which ended with a good Buffon save, and the subsequent counter-attack by Italy saw Cassano race into the Croatia box and nearly score, but for a timely tackle by Gordon Schildenfeld. Balotelli’s effort paid off when he earned a free kick in the 39th minute, and then there was that moment of magic as Pirlo’s free kick swerved over the defense into the goal. Italy 1-0 Croatia, and that’s how the first half ended
The second half began with a flurry of passes, attacks and shots on goal. Within the first 10 minutes, Thiego Motta received the first yellow card and was promptly substituted. De Natale, as expected, replaced Balotelli, and immediately the results showed, but for Croatia as Mandžukicequalized!! Strangely, after that, neither side seemed to push on for a result nor the game never rose to great heights after that, barring a thunderous volley by Kranjcar who replaced Super Mario deep into injury time which was well saved by Buffon
The result leaves the group interestingly poised, with Spain carving out a victory vs Ireland, any of the three – Croatia, Italy and Spain can make the cut. But Italy will have to hope for a result in the Croatia vs Spain game and win vs. Ireland to progress. Or else, win really big vs the Irish and proceed on goal difference
Cesare Prandelli stuck with the 3-5-2 and for the first 45 minutes it worked without too many hitches. Balotelli and Cassini ran hard and split the defense well -Balotteli earned the free kick that saw Italy take the lead. On the other hand, Bilic’s men lined up almost as a 4-1-3-2. It was expected Croatia would use the flanks to attack, and though in the first half they didn’t do so freely, in the second half with Modric, Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic pressed higher up the pitch. Srna gave Giaccherini a tough time on the right and it was Ivan Strinic’s cross from the left that led to the goal. Thus Croatia had the better of the exchanges in the second half
Italy: Buffon, Chiellini, De Rossi, Bonucci, Giaccherini, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Maggio, Cassano, Balotelli. Substitutes: De Sanctis, Sirigu, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Di Natale, Barzagli, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino.
Referee: H. Webb (England). Assitant Referees: M. Mullarkey (England), P. Kirkup (UK). Fourth Official: P. Kralovec (Czech Republic)
“Of course you are a bit bitter because when a side plays football, creates a lot of goalscoring chances, they need to put a game to bed, to kill off the game”. – Prandelli denied being angry with the result
“All I will say is that I’m very optimistic for the next match. I’m really satisfied we’ve four points from the two games. It could be even better but four points is optimal, realistic and now we have a real chance to go through” – Bilic declined to look ahead to the next game with Spain
Survival of the Fittest
Group D: Sweden vs England
Friday, 15 June 2012
20:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)
Olympic Stadium, Kyiv
England will take on Sweden in a crucial group D encounter with both teams chasing their first win in the tournament.
England was the happier team after their game against France. They set out their stall to frustrate France and take a point from that game, and that is exactly what they did. But Sweden will be different. They will need three points from this game to avoid a must-win scenario against the hosts Ukraine in their final group game in the sweltering heat of Donetsk. England might play a more enterprising game against Sweden as the latter’s defense is not one of their strengths. The grapevine suggests that Andy Carroll might just start alongside Danny Welback up-front with Ashley Young going back to the wings and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench. Though Roy Hodgson has concerns about Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker’s fatigue, he is unlikely to rest them. He is reverting to the ‘English’ 4-4-2 to get three points from this game. Hodgson is known for the organisation of his teams but this time he will have to get out of his comfort zone to get those three points; and with Carroll up-front he is gambling a bit.
Sweden was the favourite for their game against Ukraine but at the end of the game the hosts were deserving winners. The Swedish defense failed to handle Andriy Shevchenko and suffered a bitter defeat. A defeat against England will send them packing back home. The Talisman of this team is Zlatan Ibrahimovic but he needs support from his team-mates. Johan Elmander is expected to replace Markus Rosenberg and partner Zlatan up-front. Eric Hamren’s choice of Rasmus Elm in the centre of the park surprised a few. The experienced Anders Svensson might just replace Elm and partner Kim Kallstrom in the middle of the park.
Glenn Johnson; John Terry; Joleon Lescott; Ashley Cole;
James Milner; Steven Gerrard; Scott Parker; Ashely Young;
Andy Carroll; Danny Welback;
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Mikael Lustig; Olaf Melberg; Andreas Granqvist; Martin Olsson;
Anders Svensson; Kim Kallstrom;
Sebastien Larsson; Zlatan Ibrahimovic; Ola Toivonen;
Manager: Erik Hamrén
“There won’t be wholesale changes, that’s for certain because we don’t have any injury problems and the players who did well against France are all hoping to get picked to play again.”- Roy Hodgson
“We didn’t show the courage we were supposed to. Only five or six players did. We all need all the players doing that.”- Eric Hamren
Can the hosts upset Les bleus
Group D: Ukraine vs. France
Friday, 15 June 2012
18:00CET (19:00 local time)
Donbass Arena, Donetsk.
With just a point to their name, Les Tricolores will be looking to get maximum points against a Ukraine side who have done well to amass three points in their first outing against Sweden. Ukraine’s ability to imbibe pressure from France’s attacking trio of Ribery, Benzema and Nasri will go a long way in determining their fate in the group. The deuce-ace were a constant threat to the England defence but were unfortunate to leave the Dombass Arena with just a goal for their efforts. Ukraine though won’t make themselves look cinch in front of their supporters in their second ever match at the European Championship finals.
Shevchenko celebrates against Sweden
Ukraine control Group D after the first round of group stage matches with three points to their name. Oleg Blokhin’s side will be eager to consolidate the euphoria they have created by winning their first game against Sweden. Andriy Shevchenko once again could prove vital to any chance of Ukraine usurping France. Shevchenko, only two goals short of reaching half a century of goals with Ukraine will surely be fired up for this although there are doubts about the fitness of the former Milan maestro. He was recently involved in a car accident in which he reportedly got away with no injuries. They also have the vision of Serhiy Narzenko, the impressive pace of Yarmolenko and the brilliance of Voronin. Oleg Blokhin has his work cut out for him if his team is to advance. An all-out effort will be required for the Zbirna to get something tangible out of this one. Ukraine will progress to the last eight if they beat France in Donetsk irrespective of the result between England and Sweden in Kiev.
France will need to impose their attacking power on the Ukrainians from the start and control the game. They won’t be short on confidence as the Ukrainians have failed to beat them in all their previous encounters. France, though, have failed to win in their two previous face-offs against host nations at the European championship finals. They have an abundance of attacking talent in the starting line-up with Malouda, Nasri, Ribery and Benzema. The French also have great personnel on the bench – Marvin Martin, Ben Arfa and Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud offering variety. France had more shots on target (seven) than any other side on Matchday One of the tournament with only one goal to show for it hence they have to work on their finishing. They are experts in the passing department having registered the highest passing accuracy in the first round of group stage matches.
In their last encounter last year, France won 4-1 thanks to a brace and an assist from Marvin Martin.
Italics denote friendlies.
Laurent Blanc is expected to preserve faith in the 4-3-3 formation employed in the opener against England with little or no changes in the line-up. Rennes’ Yann M’Vila could return to take his place in midfield ahead of Alou Diarra. Much will depend on the splendour of Franck Ribery who has scored three goals and set up two in his last four appearances for the Les Bleus. AC Milan lynchpin Phillipe Mexes will anchor the defence against the threat of Shevchenko and his cohorts.
France (4-3-3): Hugo Lloris; Patrice Evra, Phillipe Mexes, Adil Rami, Mathieu Debuchy; Florent Malouda, Yann M’Vila, Yohan Cabaye; Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema.
Oleg Blokhin could make some defensive changes to the squad in a bid to cope with France’s array of attacking talents. Ruslan Rotan could be introduced in place of Shevchenko. They will try to discommode the French defence with constant crosses into the box. Konoplyanka was particularly menacing down the left flank against Sweden. Shevchenko’s aerial prowess can’t be understated. Three of the veteran’s last four goals for Ukraine at the EURO and World Cup finals were headers. Voronin, Nazarenko, Shevchenko and Yarmolenko will be fundamental in Ukraine’s quest. Defenders Selin and Gusev also have key roles to play as they will have to cope with the attacking scouge of Ribery and Nasri down the flanks. The sturdiness of Bayern’s Tymoshchuk will prove essential in the midfield where he has to slug it out with Malouda and Cabaye.
“We can still play better. Now we have three points and we will alter things tactically for matches to come.” – Oleg Blokhin, Ukraine manager.
“Playing the hosts in front of their home crowd is always tricky, and the Ukrainians have a good team. I’m confident, though, because of how we fought back against England.” – Hugo Lloris, France goalkeeper.
‘Super Mario’ pushes Oranje to the brink of elimination
Germany 2- 1 Netherlands
Mario Gomez (1-0); Mario Gomez (2-0); Robin Van Persie (2-1)
Considered the most mouth-watering contest in the group stages by many did not live up to the expectations. There was only one team in the contest and apart for a few minutes in the second half the result was never in doubt. Bert Van Marwjik surprisingly started with nearly the same team and the same formation which had lost to Denmark in the previous match. The now fit Joris Mathjisen came into the defence in place of Ron Vlaar which was expected. Rafel Van der Vaart and Klas Jan-Huntelaar were surprising omissions from the starting line-up. The manager seemed to have faith in the team which created a lot but finished nothing in their last match. Joachim Loew did not change his team and went with the same team and formation. He may have been tempted to change a few players in the mid-field and forward line but wanted to stick with a winning team. Germans lacked their usual panache in the last match which has become synonymous with the current team. This match would give a real indication of their tournament winning credentials.
Netherlands made the better start in a very warm evening at Kharkiv in front of nearly 38,000 spectators. Mathjisen hit a through ball which reached a stretching Van Persie who could only turn into the hands of Manuel Neuer in the 7th minute. In the 11th minute Arjen Robben made a sharp run through the centre passed a ball to Van Persie on the right side of the box, but his right footed shot went well wide of the opposition goal. In between the two Dutch chances the Germans had shown their intent when an exquisite volley by Mesut Ozil crashed against the post in the 8th minute. Netherlands was having a lot of possession but Germany was looking incisive on the break. In the 24th minute Ozil received a ball on the right flank. Nigel de Jong was tracking him. The other Dutch defensive midfielder Marc Van Bommel was marking the run of Sami Khedira. This left Bastien Schweinsteiger with a lot of space in the middle when Ozil passed the ball to him. He threaded a superb pass which was collected by Mario Gomez with his back to the Dutch goal. He received the ball and turned with a pirouette all in a single movement which left him with an easy finish past the helpless Dutch keeper Stekelenburg. Robben attempted a shot from the right which was easily saved by Neuer. The Dutch attacks were being snuffed out by the brilliant play by the German back line that pressed and marked magnificently. Robben tried his typical runs through the right wing but was beautifully stopped time and again by the German captain Philipp Lahm. Germans were finding a lot of joy through the right wing where Thomas Muller was giving the inexperienced Dutch left back Jetro Willems a torrid time. Muller nearly found Gomez with a cross in the 30th minute. In the 37th minute Germany should have gone further ahead when an unmarked Holger Badstuber found himself at the end of an Ozil free-kick. His header from close range was saved brilliantly by Stekelenburg. The very next minute the Germans were two ahead. It was the same combination with Schweinsteiger from a central area passing to Gomez on the right side of the Dutch box. He opened his body and hit a swerving left footer past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper. It could have been worse for the Dutch if Stekelenburg had not saved a deflected free kick on the stroke of the half-time whistle.
Van Marwjik rang in the changes at the start of the second half with Van der Vaart and Huntelaar coming in for Van Bommel and a very poor Ibrahim Afelley. Netherlands were dominating possession 58-42 at this point but it was not very constructive with respect to chances in the opposition box. It was Germany who came close to scoring again in the 52nd minute when Mats Hummels ran through the centre of the Dutch defence and took a shot which was saved by the goalkeeper. The rebound fell to him and he hit another shot on target as but the goalkeeper thwarted him again. The Dutch midfield play had improved but they were still not creating any chances. In the 58th Robben, who had switched to left wing managed to find Van Persie on the edge of the German penalty area with a pull-back pass. Van Persie’s snap shot to the right of Neuer forced him to a great save. Netherlands was starting to find some potency to their play in the opposition third. Sneijder and Robben both had good chances which they put wide in the 62nd and 69th minute respectively. Sneijder looked to have scored in the 71st minute when he took a shot from the left of the German penalty area with Neuer beaten. Jerome Boateng flung his body on the way to make a great block. Germany brought in Miroslav Klose for Gomez in the 72nd minute. In the 73rd minute Van Persie managed to turn Hummels in the middle of the German half and ran on through the centre and took a great right footer which beat Neuer to his left before nestling into the back of the net. The Dutch were back in the contest. The Germans were tiring in the extreme heat. However they took control of possession and did not allow the Dutch much further leeway for the rest of the match.
Germany deserved to win as they were the superior side who created better chances and looked more incisive in their play. Loew’s confidence in his team especially the Bayern Munich contingent paid dividends as their superior team play and understanding managed to overcome the Dutch. Jerome Boateng picked up a second yellow card and will miss the next match against Denmark. Loew may have to play Lars Bender at right back. He can also move Lahm into right back and play Marcel Schmelzer at left back. Germany can still be eliminated if the results go against them in the last round of matches. However looking into their two matches especially the second one they will start favourites for the win against Denmark. Netherlands still have a slim chance of qualification and will have to win with a big margin against Portugal and hope that Germany defeat Denmark. Van Marwjik will have to look into his tactics. He should start with two strikers in Van Persie and Huntelaar although the latter did not have any constructive contribution during his time on the field. Van Persie seems to getting back his touch which bodes well for them. The defensive midfielders will have to play better as they were ruthlessly exposed by a very fluid and flexible German midfield. Hope is still there to qualify a however slim one. The Group of Death has lived up to its billing and it is all to play for going into the last round of matches.
Germany: Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller (Lars Bender 90+2), Mesult Ozil (Toni Kroos 81), Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez (Miroslav Klose 72)
Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory Van der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Jetro Willems, Nigel de Jong, Mark Van Bommel (Rafael Van der Vaart 45), Arjen Robben (Dirk Kuyt 83), Wesley Sneijder, Ibrahim Afellay (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 45), Robin Van Persie.
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
Venue: Metalist Stadium.
“With this victory I think we’ve opened the door to the quarter-finals. It’s now in our hands”-Joachim Loew German Manager
“The situation is that we still have a chance to go through and when you have a chance you have to believe”-Bert Van Marwjik Netherlands Manager.
Silvestre Varela’s 87th minute goal secured three crucial points for Portugal in their second group league game against Denmark. Portugal, who had lost their opening game against Germany, needed to win this in order to proceed to the next round. On the other hand, Denmark will be in real trouble after this loss. They were high on confidence after defeating the Dutch in their opening game, but a loss here leaves them to test their luck against Germany in the last game of the group stage.
Things were not particularly in favor of Denmark, who lost Niki Zimling within the first 16 minutes of the game due to a calf injury. Pepe opened the score for Portugal when he converted from a corner in the 24th minute. It was surprising why the Real Madrid defender was kept totally unmarked at the near post by the Danish defense. Portugal doubled their lead 12 minutes later when Nani’s square pass reached Postiga, who impeccably placed the ball in the net. The Real Zaragoza forward, who failed to make an impact in the first game against Germany, made sure his presence is felt in the field. Michael Krohn-Dehli, the goal scorer in Denmark’s solitary goal win over the Dutch, assisted Niklas Bendtner to score the first goal for the Danes within 5 minutes. The game went to half time with a score of 2-1.
Within 5 minutes of the second half, Nani’s pass reached Ronaldo, who could have easily scored, but preferred not to. The Portuguese captain, considered one of the best footballers in the world, was pathetic to say the least today. At about 78 minutes, Ronaldo received a ball from Nani when the only object separating him from the goal was the Danish keeper Anderson. Quite surprisingly, Ronaldo hit outside and probably registered his name for the miss of the tournament. Minutes later, this act was punished as Niklas Bendtner scored again to equalize for Denmark. This was Bendtner’s sixth goal from his five internationals against Portugal. If Portugal would have drawn the game from there, Ronaldo had no one else to blame. However, an excellent shot from substitute Silvestre Varela in the 87th minute helped Portugal win this crucial game.
Portugal will have to devise their strategy wisely in order to progress through the group stage. Their last match is with the Dutch, who having lost both games, are virtually at the edge of being eliminated from the group. The Dutch will definitely try to win their game, while a draw probably would be good enough for Portugal (expecting Denmark’s loss against Germany). Pepe was in great form today and he should be equally instrumental in the game against Netherlands. If Nani and Postiga also play with the same flamboyance, Portugal doesn’t need to worry. Today was perhaps a bad day for Cristiano Ronaldo, who can surely get back his lost confidence in the next game.
Things do not look great for Denmark. Their next game is against Germany, who are, perhaps, the best team in this group, having won both their games. Denmark has to depend on the Dutch in order to defeat the Portuguese and then can try to draw their game with Germany. It will be impractical to expect Denmark defeating the Germans, but certainly a draw can earn them a vital point towards progression to the quarterfinals. However, if Portugal wins against the Dutch, Denmark doesn’t seem to have any chance. The Danes need to strengthen their defense, which looked miserable today except Daniel Agger. Thomas Sorensen, the regular goalkeeper for Denmark, is expected to be back for the last game.
Denmark: Stephan Andersen Simon Poulsen, Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer, Lars Jacobsen, Niki Zimling (Jakob Poulsen 16’), William Kvist, Michael Krohn-Delhi (Lasse Schone 90’), Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl (Toblas Mikkelsen 60’), Nicklas Bendtner
“The equaliser was unjust but we didn’t bow our heads; we showed character and got the winner we deserved” – Paulo Bento, Portugal coach
“We struggled to find our rhythm but we really improved in the second half and in the last ten minutes we came into our own.” – Morten Olsen, Denmark coach
Oranje look for redemption against their old rivals Die Mannschaft
Group B: Netherlands vs.Germany
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
21:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)
Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv
After the final draw of the tournament was done this was one of the most eagerly awaited matches. It was supposed to be the match between two favourites to decide who would top the group. The match was worthy of a final. The long history between the two teams was at the forefront of the media. After the first round of matches it is a much different proposition.
The Dutch have lost their opening match against Denmark and have to get a positive result in this match. They have their back to the wall and a defeat may see them eliminated if Denmark beat Portugal in the other game. Netherlands need to be the masters of their destiny and they have the personnel to do so.
Germany overcame Portugal by a single goal in their opening match. However, their performance was far from their billing of favourites. The Germans were lucky to come away with full points against Portugal. They can be the first side to cement their place in the quarter finals with a win. German national teams always seem to rise to the occasion in big tournaments and their winning mentality is a strength.
Robben versus Lahm: Key match-up of club teammates
Netherlands dominated for long periods against Denmark and had a staggering 28 attempts on goal the highest by any team in the first round of matches. The problem was that their strikers were wasteful and did not really test the opposition goalkeeper. The team just needs to sort out their finishing and they can do that being the highest scoring team from the qualifiers.
Germany has been a breath of fresh air in that last two major tournaments abandoning their traditionally dour style of play for an attacking style. The first match was a return to their old style of play with dour defending a lot of possession against Portugal. There was none of the crisp passing, movement and pace that have become synonymous with this team. Although Portugal sat back not allowing them to play their game, Netherlands with their style of play just might give them the opportunity.
Teams & Formations
The Netherlands had a problem with their strikers in the opening match. The manager Bert Van Marwjik is supposed to be facing a revolt led by the players left on the bench for the opener namely Rafael Van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Robin Van Persie who started the Denmark game failed to reproduce the form that made him top scorer in the English Premier League. Huntelaar may very well start this match as the first choice forward. It is unlikely that the manager will play both strikers although the current situation of the team seems to indicate so. The good thing is that Joris Mathijsen the first choice centre back is fit. Netherlands will start with a 4-2-3-1 formation. It is to be seen if Van Marwjik plays Van der Vaart or De Jong as the second midfielder with Van Bommel. For them Sneijder and Robben will be the key to unlock the opposition defence.
Netherlands(4-2-3-1): Maarten Stekelenburg; Gregory Van der Wiel; John Heitinga; Joris Mathijsen,; Jetro Willems; Nigel de Jong; Mark Van Bommel; Arjen Robben; Wesley Sneijder; Ibrahim Afellay; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Manager: Bert Van Marwjik
Germany did not play the way their manager Joachim Loew would have wanted them to. They dominated possession but there was a definite lack of creativity in the attacking zone. In this match they will start with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. The Germans will play for the win which will ensure qualification. However, they have a history of losing their second group stage matches which has happened in the last two major tournaments. They will also look to a better performance from Lukas Podolski who was not his usual self missing changes, giving away the ball cheaply and Andre Schurrle may start in his place. The defensive line-up with Boateng at right-back will always remain a concern. The clash between Philipp Lahm and his club team mate Arjen Robben on the right-wing will be fascinating. Mesul Ozil and Mario Gomez will be their key players along with Lahm in defence. Germany starts as a slight favourite but only just.
Germany(4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng; Mats Hummels; Philipp Lahm; Sammy Khedira; Bastien Schweinsteiger; Thomas Muller; Mesul Ozil; Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez
Manager: Joachim Loew
“How do we beat them? Well I won’t tell you that because I’ll tell my own team that. The Germans are very strong but we can also beat them. How we do that and where we do that, I won’t tell you now.” – Bert Van Marwjik Netherlands Manager.
“They’re the most interesting and best matches of the last 20-30 years. It will be very intense, there’s a huge rivalry and technically it will be a very good, but what happened in the past is history now.” – Joachim Loew Germany Manager.
Nine or Ten ?
Group B: Denmark vs. Portugal
Wednesday June 13, 2012
7 pm Local Time,
Arena Lviv, Lviv, Ukraine
Two adjacent FIFA ranking teams, Denmark (ranked 9) and Portugal (ranked 10) will be clashing against each other today at Lviv, Ukraine. Both teams will be playing their second game in the “Group of Death”. Denmark will be starting high on confidence, since they are already at the top of the group after defeating the mighty Netherlands in their last game. On the other hand, Portugal, having lost their first game against Germany by a late Mario Gomez goal, will have to win this game at any cost to ensure a finite probability of progression to the quarterfinals. The last time these two teams met was during the Euro qualifying Group H games, when Denmark defeated Portugal by a margin of 2-1 at Copenhagen. The last four encounters between these two teams resulted in two wins for Denmark and one for Portugal – thus, Denmark are clearly not starting as underdogs.
Denmark will be playing almost the same team that emerged winners against the 2010 World Cup Finalists. The only change might be Michael Silberbauer, who successfully marked Cristiano Ronaldo in the match at Copenhagen. At the front, the Danes will be looking towards Krohn-Dehli, the goal scorer from the Dutch game as well as Niklas Bendtner for converting chances. They will take every opportunity to build a solid counter-attack and score. Portugal, on the other hand, will be relying on Cristiano Ronaldo heavily for registering their first win at the European Championship. Nani, who had scored 3 international goals against Denmark will also be a key factor for the Portugese. Hugo Almeida has recovered and will probably replace Helder Postiga, after the latter failed to make even a single impact against Germany.
Denmark is in peak form after winning the last two international encounters against Australia and Netherlands.
Last 5 games: WLLWW
Portugal is having a nightmare time with just one win over the last 5 games. Consecutive losses to Turkey and Germany will surely decline their spirits. Moreover, as in the previous 3 games, Portugal hasn’t scored in their last game.
Last 5 games: DWDDLL
Denmark (4-2-3-1):Stephan Andersen Michael Silberbauer, Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer, Lars Jacobsen, Niki Zimling, William Kvist, Michael Krohn-Delhi, Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl, Nicklas Bendtner
Manager: Morten Olsen
Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Fabio Coentrao, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Joao Pereira; Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles; Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida, Nani
Manager: Paulo Bento
“We have closed down Cristiano Ronaldo before and we firmly believe we can do it again” – Simon Kjaer
“Losing is a word we can’t even let enter our minds” — Miguel Veloso
A Draw that leaves both sides wanting for more
France 1 England 1
Samir Nasri (39’) Joleon Lescott (30’)
After Last night’s game, it is really amusing to see the reaction of the English fans. With very low expectation this time from their National team, the result can’t make them too unhappy. However, the way England players approached the game bound to leave the fans disappointed. It is not possible to tell whether Roy Hodgson set out his team to play in such a insipid manner or they got into a shell under sustained French pressure, the football produced by the Three Lions was more than below par. The French tried to create things but for all their effort, they lacked the sharpness in the final third.
The game started on an even note with both teams sticking to their manager’s philosophy. England were solid in their back and always looking for opportune moment to hit the French on counter. On the other hand,the resurgent Le Blues controlled possession from the word ‘Go’. Supported by the excellent partnership of Yohan Cabaye and Alou Diarra in the midfield, the quartet of Ribery , Nasri, Malouda and Benzema tried to create openings. Specially Nasri and Ribery were quite effective in their quick interchange of position and working between the lines. But for all their effort, France couldn’t create distinct clear-cut chances , English defence was rock solid with Joleon lescott being in the form of his life. In between England were close to getting a lead as Ashley Young slipped in a ball behind the French defence and James Milner perfected his run but only to be denied by his horrible finishing. Eventually they took the lead when Lescott headed home an accurate Steven Gerrard delivery from the right. Hit by this sudden blow, the French intensified their attack and kept on probing the English defence. Joe Hart made a tremendous save of a Diarra header to keep his side’s lead intact. But six minutes before half time, Blues got their equalizer from an excellent Samir Nasri strike from outside the box. It was a well planned move that the English defence couldn’t anticipate. The first Half ended with the French team being clearly the better one with the English trying to settle down. When more action was expected in the 2nd half, it turned out to be quite an anemic one. Although the French tried to maintain their momentum, they were thwarted by their opponent’s well drilled defensive organization. England, on the other hand, appeared to be happy being sitting back and absorbing the French pressure with none of their attacking players being pro-active in getting their side forward. Steven Gerrard who could have been the player to drive them forward spent the entire half helping out his defence. Also the managers of either team waited too long to change things. Roy Hodsgon brought in Jermaine defoe for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the teenager tried his best to make things happen but lack of support did not allow him. Laurent Blanc too brought in fresh legs in Marvin Martin and Hatem Ben Arfa but things didn’t change.
Before the match, Roy Hodgson said that he doesn’t want his players to let him down. Surely the last night’s performance wont let him to breathe easy. TheThree Lions surely have to improve quite a few notches if they really want to make a mark in the tournament. With Wayne Rooney back in the side, probably the team’s dynamics will change a lot, he will make the light weight forward line much more dangerous but before that, England has a game to play against Sweden which will be very crucial for their chances of qualifying from the group. France will look forward to build on their good start. They have to create more definite chances because there is no point in keeping the possession for so long if they can not threaten the opponent’s goal. Probably Blanc has to work out on how to use the excellent reserve bench that is available if things aren’t working with his first XI. At the same time, the French defensive line has to be more cautious as it can prove to be their Achilles heel against more dangerous attacking teams.
FRANCE : Hugo LLoris; Patrice Evra, Adil Rami, Phillipe Mexes,Mathieu Debuchy; Yohan Cabaye, Alou Diarra ; Franc Ribery , Samir Nasri, Flouent Malouda ; Karim Benzema
ENGLAND : Joe Hart; Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner; Danny Welbeck
“This gives us a good platform. Hopefully we’ll get fitter. The more we train and get matches under our belts the fitter we’ll become “
Roy Hodgson’s after match thoughts
“I think we played much better than England, but in the end it was a draw and we are a bit frustrated. They played in the way that Chelsea played against Barcelona. “
The last match in the first round of matches was a simmering affair. It started cagily but developed into a pulsating contest. Ukrainian manager Oleg Blokhin pulled off a tactical masterstroke with his starting line-up by playing the veteran Andriy Shevchenko in place of the in-form Marko Devic who was billed to start by all experts. It was an inspired selection which decided the course of the match. As expected Ukraine started with a 4-1-3-2 formation with Shevchenko and Voronin in attack. Sweden started with the 4-2-3-1 formation with Ibrahimovic playing in the hole behind the lone striker Rosenberg. The Swedes who were unbeaten in their last five matches came up against a team which was inspired by the support of the partisan 65,000 supporters who had gathered at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv. The match was decided in a pivotal ten minutes early in the second half.
The start of the game was cautious from both sides who knew that a win would put them on top of the group. Sweden started brighter with an Ibrahimovic cross being palmed by the opposition goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov in the opening five minutes. The match was quite combative with 16 fouls in the opening 15 minutes. Ukraine then took control of possession with Husev the left back linking up into the mid-field with Tymoshchuk and finding a lot of joy in the wings especially on the left through Yevhen Konoplyanka. The battle between the two veterans Olaf Mellberg and Andriy Shevchenko was captivating contest. The first clear chance fell to Shevchenko in the 23rd minute through a counterattack from the right where he exchanged passes with Yarmalenko and was in a one-on-one situation against Andreas Isaksson the Swedish goalkeeper. Shevchenko pulled his shot wide of the far post. In the opposite end Rosenberg made Pyatov scramble with a shot from outside the area in the 31st. Ukraine enjoyed long spells of sustained possession but could not find that opening with the Scandinavian defence holding strong. In the 35th minute Andriy Vorinin took a fierce pile driver from 25 yards which was parried by Isaksson. The hosts came close again on the 37th minute with Shevchenko hit a shot from the left of the box which was blocked and the rebound feel to his head which is crossed into the path of Yarmalenko whose shot was on target but valiantly blocked by a diving Andreas Granqvist. The best chance of the half fell to Ibrahimovic in the 39th minute. A cross from Lustic from the left found Ibrahimovic unmarked with ample time and he placed his header against the outside of the far post with the Ukrainian keeper completely beaten.
Ukraine continued having more possession in the starting of the second half. However Sweden looked more threatening in attack and Rosenberg shot in the 49th minute was on target and was blocked superbly by Yehven Selin the Ukrainian right back. The Swedes went ahead in the 52nd minute a long cross from the left was put back in the penalty area by Kim Kallstrom to an unmarked Ibrahimovic to stab in from close to silence the majority of the stadium. The lead lasted for only 3 minutes as Husev burst down the right and passed to Yarmalenko who crossed with his left foot and that man Shevchenko jumped ahead of his marker Mellberg to head in the equaliser. The stadium had erupted and the Ukrainians buoyed by the support went forward menacingly and Gusev shot over from outside the box in the 59th minute. The Ukrainians got a corner in the 62nd minute and Konoplyanka took it from the left. Shevchenko managed to get rid of his marker Ibrahimovic and flicked the ball with his head at the near post. The ball went in past a very small gap between the post and Lustig the Swedish defender who was guarding it. The legend had turned the match on its head in a matter of 10 minutes. The Swedes re-organised by bringing on the veteran Anders Svensson in place of Toivonen. Svensson shored up the mid-field allowing Rasmus Elm to go forward to support the attackers. Sweden brought on Christian Wilhelmsson the more attack minded winger in place of Seb Larrson in the 68th minute. Wilhelmsson nearly found Elm with a long pass from the left. Joham Elmander just back from his broken meta-tarsal was sent in by the Swedes in the 71st minute looking for an equaliser. Shevchenko and Voronin were both withdrawn as Blokhin tried to bring in fresher legs to his teams cause. Sweden nearly found the equaliser in the 90th minute when Elamander exchanged passes with Ibrahamovic a lofted return pass sent him clear but he blasted the ball over with the goal at his mercy. A fully match fit Elmander may have scored from a similar chance. In the last minute of added time Olaf Mellberg found himself in the opposition penalty box but his volley with outstretched foot sailed over the goal.
It was expected that the in-form Swedish team would easily get past the hosts who had lost their last two matches and were low on confidence. However, Ukraine was the better side and dominated the game for long periods of time with sustained possession and more attempts on goal. Oleg Blokhin has proved to be a master tactician by starting his veteran striker allowing him to gain confidence from the partisan support. They will go into their match against France with a lot of belief and the knowledge that a win will ensure qualification to the quarter-finals. Sweden will have to re-think their strategy and shore up the mid-field which was outplayed by the Ukrainians. It will be better if they started with Svesson instead of Toivonen allowing Elm to play in the advanced role. The fitness of Elmander will also be crucial to their fortunes. They need to get a result against England who managed to draw against a better French side. The Swedes do not want to go into the last match against France looking for a victory which looks unlikely looking at the first round of matches.
Sweden :Andreas Isaksson, Mikael Lustig, Olaf Mellberg, Andreas Granqvist, Martin Olsson, Rasmus Elm, Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson (Christian Wilhelmsson,68), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Toivonen (Anders Svensson,62), Markus Rosenberg (Johan Elmander,71)
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (Turkey)
Venue: Olympic Stadium
“All the players, the staff and the stadium were with us. That’s why we won today – we were one family.” Anatoliy Tymoshchuk- on the team spirit of Ukraine.
“It’s tough, it’s tough. We shouldn’t have lost. We had good chances to score goals. We were winning 1-0, then they scored to make it 1-1 and another to make it 2-1 from a corner and that just can’t happen. But we have two games left to do better.” Zlatan Ibrahamovic – on his teams loss.
Traditional Rivals renew Euro Rivalry
Group D: France vs England
Monday, 11 June 2012
1800 (local time); 1200(EST); 21.30(IST)
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Zinedine Zidane will always come to one’s mind whenever you think of an France vs England encounter and that too in an Euro clash. Eight years back, England were so close to a win in that pulsating encounter in Estadio da Luz but only to be denied by an injury time Zizou magic. However, lot have happened after that encounter in between 8 years. Le Blues have experienced the crest of success in in becoming Runners –up in WC 2006 as well as ignominious episode of the WC 2010. England on the other hand has continued to be perennial under achievers in International scenes. Coming to the Euro 2012, both sides have contrasting preparations. France FA made whole sale changes to their National team after their debacle in the WC 2010. Laurent Blanc was installed as the Manager. Slowly but steadily, Blanc have been able to mould the team in his philosophy which that insists on playing attacking football with a balance at the back. He has brought a discipline in the team that was severely missing under previous manager. Compared to that, the preparations of England team have been nothing sort of messy. After successful ly securing qualification for the Euro, Fabio Capello was preparing to erase the memories of an disappointing campaign WC 2010 with a strong performance in the Euro 2012. Then the John Terry saga happened when the National Captain was charged for racially abusing his fellow opponent. Although Capello stood by his Captain, the FA had to act to against Terry and stripped him of captaincy. This led to a collision between capello and the FA and eventually Capello resigned. After months of speculation, FA made the bizarre selection of Roy Hodgson as the manager barely 2 months before the Euro. Whether this is a correct or wrong selection, time will only tell but for any manager, it is next to impossible to get the best performance out of his team in such a short time. Things have become complex for Roy as he has lost 3 key players due to injury that includes Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and the ever reliable Gary Cahill, add to that the suspension of Wayne Rooney who must have been a vital part of Roy’s plan. However all these things have given rise to a never –seen –before situation, the English press haven’t been that vocal about the chances of the team in the tournament .A low expectation can be conducive to English team’s performance in the tournament.
France qualified for the Euro 2012 as group champions seeing off a stiff competition from Bosnia. In the build up to the Euro, they have played quite balanced football albeit against lesser opponents like Estonia. The players are also coming off good individual domestic seasons which will give them an added advantage.
England also emerged as Group champions in their qualification campaign which was quite an easier group. However their performances in the friendlies, leading to Euro, have been quite below par. Under new captian Steven Gerrard, the team seems to be finding their way forward.
Teams & Formations
Blanc after a lot of experimentations in the last two years seems to have found the right balance. Upfront, Benzema is raring to prove his worth for the National team. He will be backed by the attacking trio of Nasri , Ribery and Malouda with the excellent Cabaye and Diarra marshalling the midfield. However loss Eric Abidal can be important as the defence will be a concern for the Le Blues.
France : LLoris; Adil Rami, Patrice Evra, Mathieu Debuchy, Phillip Mexes; Cabaye,Alou Diarra; Nasri, Malouda, Ribery ; Benzema
Roy Hodgson will set out his team based on solid defensive organization that will try to hit opponents on counter. A lot will depend on how John Terry will lead the defensive line and Steven Gerrard will operate the midfield. Given their respective club forms, Danny Welbeck will start as the only striker over Andy Carrol and Jermaine Defoe. It is to be seen whether Alex Oxlade Chamberlain can prove to be a sensation for the Three Lions.
England : Hart; Glen Johnson, Jolean Lescott, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard; Alex Oxlade Chanberlain, Ashley Young, James Milner; Danny Welbeck
Don’t worry! The English will show up ready for us. They always want to win and even more so against the French.
France coach Laurent Blanc
We’ve all got to turn up and we’ve all got to perform well at the right time. There’s no point one or two turning up or you’ll go home early.
England Captain Steven Gerrard
Hometown boys look for a bright start against Scandinavian Giants
Group D: Ukraine vs. Sweden
Monday, 11 June 2012
21:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)
Olympic Stadium, Kyiv
The second host team Ukraine take the field against Sweden in the last of the first round matches in the group phase. The Olympic Stadium in Kyiv has undergone a major reconstruction and rebuilding including a new pitch which was unveiled in October 2011.
The hosts have not won this tournament since 1984 and Ukraine will try to reverse this trend. They are the lowest ranked team in the group. The next two matches are against arguably the better two teams France and England make this match the key to the fortunes of Ukraine.
Sweden is always a major fixture in all major tournament finals without being counted amongst the favourites. The team is made up of a solid group of players with some very famous stars and some workhorses who plied their trade in the different leagues of Europe. Looking into England’s problems they should be favourites to progress from this group after France. However this match against the hosts will be crucial to their chances.
Ukraine is the only debutant team in this edition of the tournament. Although, the 1988 Soviet team had a very strong Ukrainian contingent this is their first official Euro. Being hosts Ukraine did not have to qualify for the tournament and they lost their last two friendlies against Austria and Turkey both of whom have not qualified for this tournament. The manager Oleg Blokhin recently revealed that the poor form was due a chronic bout of food-poisoning which affected the whole team.
Sweden made has been a regular in this tournament since 1992 when lost in the semi-finals. In the last edition they were eliminated in the group stage by the champions Spain and Russia. Sweden qualified automatically as the best second place qualifier behind Netherlands. They scored the third most number of goals amongst the 16 qualifiers with 31 behind Netherlands and Germany. The Swedes have been impressive in the warm-up friendly matches and are still unbeaten in 2012.
Teams & Formations
Ukraine team is centred around their captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk of Bayern Munich. He is the vital cog which makes the Ukrainian team function. Other key members in attack and defence will be Andriy Voronin of Dynamo Moscow and Oleg Husyev of Dynamo Kyiv. Oleg Blokhin will probably start with two forwards in a 4-1-3-2 formation looking for a win. Andriy Shevchenko the legendary striker should be seen as a second half substitute.
Sweden will look to their star Zlatan Ibrahamovic for inspirational play in the opposition penalty box. Ibrahimovic will play in the hole below the main striker giving him the flexibility of creating chances and scoring himself. Johan Elmander the first choice striker who has just returned to training after a foot fracture will probably not be in the starting line-up. Erik Hamrén will start with a 4-2-3-1 formation which will look to take control of the midfield.
Sweden (4-2-3-1) Andreas Isaksson; Mikael Lustig; Olaf Mellberg; Andreas Granqvist; Martin Olsson; Rasmus Elm; Kim Kallstrom; Sebastian Larsson; Zlatan Ibrahimovic; Ola Toivonen; Markus Rosenberg
Manager: Erik Hamrén
“Sweden as a team work very well, they’ve been together for a long time and they’re a machine that runs very smoothly”
Oleg Blokhin- Ukraine Manager
“I don’t have any problems sleeping but I dream a lot, and when I do, I dream about winning”
Erik Hamrén-Sweden Manager
Hitting the Irish Bar or Not
Group C: Republic of Ireland vs Croatia
Sunday, 10 June 2012
20:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)
Municipal Stadium, Poznań
Though Group C is not marked as the Group of Death, it is surely going to be a tricky affair. A gritty Republic of Ireland team is going to face one of the dark horses of the Euro 2012, Croatia, whereas the other two teams are definite European heavyweights. This is first time since Republic of Ireland qualified for Euro since 1988 and also they are into a major tournament after 10 long years. This is a grand opportunity for Irish fighters to show the world their character after their heart breaking episode against France in 2010 WC qualifier play-off. Ireland is not known for their goal-scoring flurry, rather the fighting spirit and determination are the two factors they are relying on. After Italian mastermind Giovanni Trapattoni took over the charge since 2008, Irish team looks very much organized and as a result they are back in top flight.
Croatia on the other hand, are currently ranked 8th per the FIFA ranking and expected to thrill the tournament with their exciting gameplay. Their Euro qualifying campaign wasn’t smooth enough though. Finishing the group after Greece, Croatia won the play-offs against Turkey to confirm their booking for Euro. They have experienced lots of ups and downs under their long-standing manager Slaven Bilić’s era and are expected to overcome all the odds to present a tight show on the grand stage.
Ireland had a pretty good qualifying campaign with their limited resources. They are facing the Croats after a 14 game unbeaten streak and they don’t want to spoil it either. Historically they were never beaten in the opening games of any major competition. After Trapattoni took over, Irish were beaten only 8 times out of 46 games. In the qualifiers, their only defeat came against the mighty Russians.
Croatia surprisingly had a tough run in qualifiers. Despite being the top seeded team they finished behind Greece with an astonishing defeat against Georgia. Their performances in pre-Euro friendlies were not impressive enough. They lost to Sweden, drew with Norway and managed to win only against weaker Estonia. Still, the amount of firepower they have stored easily can turn up the table. Turkey had faced the wrath of a rejuvenated Croatia team when they were demolished 0-3 at Istanbul – just an example what they are capable of.
Republic of Ireland: DWDDW
Teams and Formations
The Irish probably is going back to their tested and proven 4-4-2 formation after their lacklustre draw against much weaker Hungary team. Trapattoni tried a midfield packed 4-5-1 which didn’t look like working. So Robbie Keane at the upfront will be going to pair with Shane Long to provide a two-pronged attack where Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady will provide much needed width. Croatia will heavily rely upon returning Bayer Leverkusen defender Vedran Ćorluka to stop this well-formed attack. Irish supporters will be very much delighted to see their veteran defender John O’Shea back in starting line-up and their most capped (122) player of all time, Shay Given, declared fit to guard the net. Ireland will be eying on their most successful goal scorer of all time Robbie Keane (53) who had scored 7 goals in the qualifiers. Croatia also needs to be very cautious during dead-ball situations as the Irish are proven to be very good in that. In the midfield, Croatia will show a sheer dominance as they have the string master named certain Luka Modrić. This ambidextrous swift medio can turn the heat for the Croats combining with captain Darijo Srna – who has a fantastic right foot to deliver lethal crosses. Croatia needs to be cautious on their left as attack minded Perisic is not very prone to fall back which can give extra spaces to ever intelligent Duff. Factually, Croatia is pretty deadly in the air and scored 9 goals from header in the qualifiers. As they are missing their main striker Olich due to injury, Nikica Jelavić, who scored 9 goals in 12 matches for Everton already – likely to be given a chance over Eduardo, while Wolfsburg forward Mario Mandžukić start as withdrawn forward. Bilić also can pick very talented Niko Kranjčar. Richard Dunne will be the key man on the heart of Irish defense to stop this sharp attack led by Modric. Dunne needs to replicate his famous performance against Russia in Moscow in September 2011 where he single-handedly stopped a Russian team which totally dominated midfield and created wave after wave of attacks.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, Duff, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady, Long, Keane
“They have someone like Luka Modric, who I know very, very well. I’ve been speaking to him over the last couple of days, having a bit of banter with him.”
Robbie Keane, Forward, Republic of Ireland
“On Sunday we will fight for every ball and for every inch of the pitch. I don’t see how Ireland can trouble us. Their football is very simple and not difficult to analyse.”
Slaven Bilić, Manager, Croatia
Denmark: Expect the Unexpected
Denmark 1 – 0 Netherlands
As it Happened
Denmark pulled up the first upset of 2012 Euro Cup with a 1-0 victory over Netherlands. Michael Krohn-Dehli’s goal in the 24th minute of the game split the two teams 3 points apart in the “Group of Death”. A plethora of misses by the Dutch forwards, especially Robin Van-Persie and Arjen Robben resulted in the unexpected defeat of the runner-ups of 2010 World Cup.
Robin Van Persie missed another glorious opportunity towards the end of the first half when Wesley Sneiijder passed him an easy ball to score. But the Arsenal Captain could, at the best, hit the ball without any power or commitment to Anderson. In the 63rd minute, it was Robben’s chance to miss. Sneijder found him about 6 yards out, and he headed wide. 73rd minute, and it was Klaas-Jan Hunteleer’s chance to miss the goal. He shot straight to Anderson in a one-one situation and Van Persie fails to score from the follow-up. The Dutch manager’s strategy to introduce Dirk Kuyt at 85th minute couldn’t help the Oranje. Towards the end of the game, the Dutch appealed for a handball against the Dane defender, Lars Jacobsen, which the referee turned down. Overall, the Netherlands’ inability to keep the ball within the net cost them crucial points in their first game.
Denmark will definitely be elated at this victory. They have secured crucial 3 points. On Wednesday, they meet Portugal. If they can pull up another surprise, they are sure to move towards the quarterfinals. Even a draw might help them secure a place in the top 8. This would be a real upset, since the Danes had the least chance of moving on from the Group of Death. With the goalkeeper Anderson in this superb form, the Scandinavians can dream.
Netherlands have just themselves to blame for this defeat. With 28 shots, 5 of which were at the goal without any fruit is extremely disappointing. The Dutch will have to start afresh. They have two games left in the group against the mighty Germany and Portugal, and needless to say, they have to win both. They are a balanced team and can possibly proceed to the quarterfinals even after this defeat.
“I’m speechless, because these three points are very important.” – Dutch captain Mark Van Bommel
“We know the Dutch, they can be very dominating. If you get scared of them, they play really good football. I think we played them in the right way”, Denmark coach Morten Olsen
Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel (Kuyt 85), Heitinga, Vlaar, Willems, De Jong (Van der Vaart 71), Van Bommel, Robben, Sneijder, Afellay (Huntelaar 71), Van Persie
Manager: Bert van Marwijk
Denmark: Anderson, Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, S. Poulsen, C. Poulsen, Kvist, Rommedahl (Mikkelsen 84), Eriksen (Schone 74), Krondelhi, Bendtner
Russia started their campaign with a thumping 4-1 win over hopeless Czech Republic. As expected Russian star players – Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko – put their average club seasons behind and rose to the occasion. As expected, the 21-year old Russian prodigy Alan Dzagoev showed what a class player he is and this performance will surely reflect on his mounting price tag during his imminent summer transfer. But, quite unexpectedly, the Czechs were as shambolic in defensive organization as they could be. It is not always that a goalkeeper of the calibre of Petr Cech – even his 2012 version – gets beaten 4 times in a match.
It took a little time for the Russian midfield – comprising straight out of Zenit St. Petersburg – to take control of the match but once they did, they made a mockery out of the lacklustre Czech attack led by an isolated Milan Baros. The trio of Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov and Roman Shirokov were instrumental in the midfield in a 4-3-3 formation. They quite easily bossed Czechs twin-fulcrum of Jaroslav Plasil and Petr Jiracek, playing in a 4-2-3-1 system. Shirokov’s burst through the right hand side of midfield set up the opening goal in the 15th minute. His cross was headed across by Aleksandr Kerzhakov on to the post. Dzagoev latched on to the rebound to open his account in Euro 2012.
Arshavin nowadays resembles a leap year. He rises from the ashes like Phoenix only when the Euro showdown is underway. It must have been agonizing for Arsene Wenger to see Arshavin in such a prolific form against Czech Republic, something he has rarely produced for the Gunners. He stared on wide left, but he dropped in the hole, prompted several attack deep from the midfield and there was an enigma to the Russian captain’s play which was awe inspiring. It was the 24th minute when his sublime diagonal pass into the Czech area was latched on to by an unmarked Shirokov to finish it from six yards out.
Czech Republic was nowhere. They were sinking without a trace and the positional sense of their defensive unit was shocking. Russian front man Aleksandr Kerzahkov was lenient enough not to kill the game even after numerous opportunities. The Czechs came back briefly as Jaroslav Plasil slid through a perfectly weighted pass for Vaclav Pilar to round Vyacheslav Malafeev and score on the 52nd minute.
But sanity prevailed as the wasteful Kerzahkov was replaced by Pavlyuchenko and he had an immediate impact by setting up a second for Dzagoev elevn minutes from time. Pavlyuchenko rounded the match off three minutes later as he strolled inside Roman Hubnik with maddening ease, before netting high and powerfully beyond Cech. The lanky forward was not given a place in the starting XI due to his lack of game time for Tottenham Hotspurs but it seems he has done enough to earn that for the next match.
Russia were favourites to advance from this lightweight group. But after this performance they should move a few places up in the odds table to progress even further. IF things go according to plan, Advocaat may even indulge in trying out variations and testing out fringe players – none better than target man Pavel Pogrenbnyak – in their last group match.
It is not the margin of defeat but the way their defence was exposed time and again would be a thing to worry for the Czech supporters. At this form, they cannot think of winning a game, leave aside progressing through to the knock out stages.
“We are quite happy. When you score four goals in an international game it’s a good result…. For a first game we’re happy.”
Russian manager, Dick Advocaat
“We’re angry now.”
Czech Republic goal scorer Václav Pilař after they were beaten 4-1 by Russia
Vyacheslav Malafeev, Sergei Ignashevitch, Alexei Berezoutski, Alexander Anyukov, Yuri Zhirkov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Igor Denisov, Alan Dzagoev (Alexander Kokorin, 85), Roman Shirokov, Alexander Kerzhakov (Roman Pavlyuchenko, 74), Andrey Arshavin
Petr Cech, Michal Kadlec, Theodor Gebre Selassie, Roman Hubnik, Tomas Sivok, Tomas Rosicky, Jaroslav Plasil, Petr Jiracek (Milan Petrzela, 76), Milan Baros (David Lafata, 85), Vaclav Pilar, Jan Rezek (Tomás Hübschman, 45)