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
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
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.
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
Daring Dark Horses at Euro 2012
While all the superpowers of Europe prepare for the mega stage, there are some smaller nations which have the power to cause a huge upset. Debojyoti Chakraborty looks at the possible contenders who can shock the pundits at the UEFA Euro 2012
Speaking of Dark Horses, we try to analyse the teams which may not be entering the tournament as favourites but can propel their way through to the knock-out stages and beyond. These teams have a realistic chance of progressing as they are, in a way, helped by the draw at the Group stages. All they need is a bit of determination, good strategy…and some luck! So let us look at our own set of Underdogs.
Russia has a very good record at the Euros since winning it (then Soviet Union) in the inaugural edition of 1960. After going through a re-building phase since the inception of the country in the early ‘90s, Russia did well last time when they reached the semis and lost out to eventual winners Spain. This time also, the men under Dick Advocaat look set for a strong run in to the tournament.
Russia topped their Group during qualifying stages with ease. Though their opponents are relative minnows in Europe, Russia did put up a good show – especially in defence which let in only four goals, second only to Italy – and gained some valuable places in the UEFA rankings. That helped them get into the easiest Group in the finals. Russia have some good players who put their best foot forward while playing for their country. Hence, though Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko have struggled to break into the first team for their club teams in England, it will be no surprise if they turn the heat on in Euro 2012.
Advocaat is a shrewd tactician but there are quite a few challenges for him this time round. He is often criticised for favouring players from Zenit St. Petersburg, the club he coached previously. It will be interesting to see how he inducts the young and talented players like playmaker Alan Dzagoev and striker Pavel Pogrebnyak to the mix. Also, considering this could be the swansong for some key players such as defender Sergei Ignashevich, midfielders Konstantin Zyryanov and Igor Semshov, and possibly the dynamic duo of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, Advocaat would surely like to motivate them for a final hurrah.
Russia is playing all its matches in Poland. Ukraine would have suited them more considering the large Russian contingent there. They start their campaign against Czech Republic and will look to set the tone for the tournament. Against Poland, the hosts, their second Group match will be the toughest one. Advocaat might have an eye on this match from the start of the campaign. By the time they take on Greece on the last match day, the Russians could find themselves in a position where they can dictate terms and choose their quarter-final opponents. And that could be it. With an opponent from the Group of Death their campaign looks all but over. But the Russians won’t let it go so easy and they can look for inspiration in the Greek side of 2004. They should also benefit from the fact that half of the side plays for the Russian champion Zenit St. Petersburg.
Another Zenit player to feature in the Euro 2012 will be Portuguese defender Bruno Alves. His own country Portugal featured in the first ever Euro in 1960 but had to wait for a long 24 years for their next appearance where they reached the semis. They have done reasonably well since then with their best performance coming in the home turf as they reached the Final of Euro 2004 only to lose to Greece.
In the lead-up to Euro 2012, Portugal was stuttering with only one point from the first 2 matches of the qualifying competition, when Paulo Bento took over from Carlos Queiroz. Portugal scratched their way to the finals through a play-off against Bosnia and Herzegovina. They face an even uphill task being drawn in the Group of Death. But we have often seen teams which scratch their way into the tournament often go all the way beyond everyone’s expectations. And they have it all – ambition, determination and belief – as put in by their talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo. At 27, the best player of the tournament is in the form of his life and he enters the competition as the highest scorer for Portugal in the qualifying campaign with seven goals to his credit. Champions League semi-final berth to go with his personal glory of scoring for fun in La Liga; 2012 has been a memorable year for CR7 and he would like to cap it up with the Euro glory. He has some creative players hugging the touchlines in the forms of João Moutinho and Nani. If they can influence the game and take a lead, the Real Madrid pairing of Pepe and Fábio Coentrão can organise the back four, keep a proper shape and defend well.
The Selecção das Quinas start their campaign against Germany and even a stalemate would suit them. The second match against Denmark would be their big match as they not only would like to win it, but win it big to have a good goal difference. They will take a close look at the other match in the Group on the same match day as Germany and Netherlands lock horns. A bit of luck, results going their way and Portugal will feel they have a solid chance of progressing to the knock-out stages when they take on the Dutch side in their last Group match. Some records are yet to be set after the Battle of Nuremberg in World Cup 2006 which saw only 18 men finish the match and a total of 16 yellow cards. If Portugal can progress to the knock-out stages, they will face a much easier opponent in the form of Russia, Poland or Czech Republic. This is a definite winnable game and once you are into the semi-finals, anything can happen.
Just like Portugal, Croatia also came through the pain and anxiety of play-offs and started the tournament as one of the well drilled teams. Croatia, as a part of Yugoslavia, had an impressive record at the Euro championships where they reached the Final of the tournaments twice in the first three editions. They have failed to emulate their form ever since and this time too they are entering the tournament as rank outsiders.
Croatia was widely tipped to top their Group in the qualifying campaigns where they were drawn against the likes of Greece, Israel, Latvia, Georgia and Malta. But they were beaten comprehensively by the Greek side at home and a shock defeat by Georgia led them to the qualification play-off. In that match though they regained their composure and thrashed a well drilled Turkey side to advance to the finals of Euro 2012. Under the supervision of coach Slaven Bilic, the Croats are well organized, tactically sound and they are expected to run their socks off for the whole 90 minutes. Amongst a group of strong and determined individuals, they have a lynchpin in Luca Modric, a rising star in Milan Badelj and a target man in Ivica Olic.
It is their impressing run of form which sees them in the eighth place in UEFA rankings, one above their Group opponent Italy. They have been drawn in a difficult Group but one has to remember in major tournaments none can be termed as a pushover team. Croatia start their campaign against Ireland and they have to win this game for a realistic chance of progressing. They will also keep a keen eye on another match on the same match day involving Spain and Italy. Spain is almost certain to progress but Croatia can target Italy for a possible berth in the quarter-finals. The draw also favours them as the Croats will next be against the Azzuri in what could decide the quarter-final berth. Once into the knock-outs, they are most likely to face England or France. Neither of them are quite threatening in their current forms. So, the big match is against the Italians on June 14 which could well seal Croatia’s fate.
The last team in this feature is Sweden, who defeated Croatia 3-1 in a friendly in February. Sweden boss Erik Hamren will be very pleased with his efforts so far steering Sweden into the finals of a major tournament in his very first assignment. He will take heart from the fact that Sweden have progressed through the Group stages from a very similar setup in 1992 – the Group featured England, France and Denmark – which was their first appearance in the Euro stage, that too as a host.
Sweden qualified for the finals behind Netherlands as the Group runner-up. But they put up a strong display at home in Stockholm to beat the formidable Dutch side. Hamren favours a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation and even if heavily criticized at home for this, he has delivered some good results in the run-up to the competition. Like any Scandinavian side, Sweden is well organized, tactically sound and their physical aspect of the game is a major strength. Their game will definitely revolve around the charismatic front man Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With some more potent weapon at disposal, Hamren might have considered adopting an attacking brand of football with the mantra: “Attack is the best form of defence”. But does not look like so!
Sweden are lucky to get their campaign rolling against Ukraine. This is one match where they would like to win handsomely. Following that is a match against England. The 3 Lions have been struggling for form and consistency; without much time for the newly appointed manager to stamp his authority and influential Wayne Rooney up front this is Sweden’s best chance to get one up against the disjointed English side. Even the last encounter against France is not a daunting one – the French are going through a transition phase and are nowhere close to their dominating best of the late ‘90s. So their recipe for success would be to thrash Ukraine and get at least 2 points from the remaining two matches. If Sweden can make it through to the quarter-finals, they could face the reigning European and World Champions Spain and that will be curtains for them. So there is added motivation for the Swedes to top the Group and a few games going their way can make their dream come true. If that happens, Swedes would be up against the struggling Azzuri or another underdog in the form of Croatia. This is quite a decent opportunity for them to feature in the last four and then, as they say, anything can happen.
So we are done with our own dark horses. Some of them face a trickier tie compared to others. While a dominant opponent from Group B – Germany, Netherlands or Portugal – might just be Russia’s hope for a last four berth, Portugal can spring in a surprise from the Group of Death and there is no reason why they cannot go all the way. Sweden seem to have the brightest chance of shining through as they are fitted against misfiring European giants whereas the Croats have to dig deep to salvage any pride out of this year’s competition.