Will Ibra conquer Les Bleus?
Where: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv, Ukraine
When: Tuesday, June 19, 2:45 p.m. ET, 12.15 PM IST
6 of the 8 quarter-finalists at Euro 2012 have been decided. Only 2 spots are up for grabs, and three teams are still in fray – France, England and co-hosts Ukraine. But the Sweden, already out of the tournament after two high-scoring defeats (vs. Shevchenko-inspired Ukraine and Wellbeck’s coming-of-age goal-inspired England) holds the key for the co-hosts in a way. For if they manage to beat France today, hosts Ukraine can go through with a win vs. England (any other result anywhere will eliminate Ukraine). A victory will also ensure they don’t join Ireland and Holland as a team that failed to win a match
For their rivals of today, France, qualifying is not their biggest headache. All they need to do is maintain a better goal-difference than England (France have a GD of +2, England have a GD of +1) – and the way they demolished Ukraine in their last match shows they are in good form, ready to wipe off the humiliation of Euro 2008 where they failed to win a match. Their biggest headache will be their opponents in the quarter-finals – it will be either Italy (who beat them in 2006 WC final, a match more known for the Zidane head-butt) or it will be Spain, who beat them 2-0 in their last encounter in 2010
So what does coach Laurent Blanc, a 2000 Euro Cup winner himself, do? Does he go with his first team, or does he play the Evras and the Maloudas, who have been warming the bench? In sports, as they say, never change a winning combination (something that Blanc has also seen as part of the playing 11 he was part of in the late 90s-early 2000s), but with last match scorer Jeremy Menez on a yellow card, there is an opportunity to try out Florent Malouda. Striker Karim Benzema faces competition from Olivier Giroud for the role of lone striker after failing to score in his previous two games. Arsenal defender Laurent Kocielny could also be in line for a first competitive start ahead of Adil Rami. With Yohan Cabaye training separately from the rest of the France squad as he carries a knock sustained in the 2-0 win over Ukraine, Yann M’Vila may come into the midfield for his first start of the tournament
Sweden on the other hand has 2 changes for sure: Midfielder Emir Bajrami has been included in Sweden’s starting line-up in place of the ill Rasmus Elm and Ola Toivonen replaces the injured Johan Elmander up front. They have not had a good time in big tournaments lately, failing to qualify for 2010 WC, and now eliminated in the group stages on both Euro 2008 and 2012. This comes after a particularly good phase in 2002-2006 where they reached the round of 16 in both 2002 and 2006 WC and reached the QFs on Euro 2004. Their poor phase has coincided with their charismatic striker Zlatan Ibramovic winning trophy after trophy at AC Milan. In short, the national team has failed Ibra (or is it the other way round?), as he is fondly called. This year has been a particularly bad year for him, with AC Milan failing to win any silverware. He showed he retails all that hunger and even more with a fine goal vs. Ukraine, but was outdone by another veteran – Sheva. In fact, he recently announced he will play on till 2014 and try and see to it Sweden qualify for the quadrennial showpiece.
Will he go out in a blaze of glory by defeating the Les Bleus?
Erik Hamren: “We feel sad to be leaving Kyiv and Ukraine. We have had a fantastic time here – we could happily have stayed in our hotel a lot longer. When we lost against England, the squad were very down, and if we had been in a bad place they would have really felt that, but we had a great day on Sunday. We trained earlier so they could have a relaxed afternoon and evening. We’re sad to be going.”
Form Guide: LLWWW
Laurent Blanc: “There’s always the danger that you may take your eye off the ball. So it is up to us to prepare seriously. We also need to be very aware of what we want to achieve. We were very happy following the Ukraine game, rightly so, but as I said to the players, we now need to prepare for the next game, as a game like this against Sweden demands it.”
Form Guide: WDWWW
Sweden: Isaksson, Granqvist, Mellberg, J Olsson, M Olsson, Larsson, Kallstrom, Svensson, Elm, Ibrahimovic, Elmander
France: LLoris, Debuchy, Koscielny, Mexes, Clichy, M’Villa, Diarra, Malouda, Nasri, Ribery, Giroud