Thursday, 7 June 2012

Euro 2012 roundtable #5: Group D

Euro 2012 Roundtable #5
Group D preview.

Group D

Thoughts on England?

Michael: *puts on Scotland cap*

“We’re representing Britain so we’ve got to do or die, and England cannae dae it, coz they didnae qualify...”

Those lines will never be repeated.

Actually, I don’t mind the English. They’re no a bad bunch, on the whole. Not as good as Scots, naturally, but nobodys perfect. Heh. 

"England could be playing at tiddlywinks and I'd cheer on the opposition."
Granda George, c2004

I want to cheer on England in tournaments. I really do. Well, I didn’t in 2004. But in 2006, certainly. Until about 5 minutes into their first game. And again in 2010. They are just so dull. Which is annoying, as when I hated them, they were involved in thrillers. The Portugal Quarterfinal in 2004 comes to mind. Now I have grown to have a grudging acceptance of them – the grudging part is due to not having STV cover the ITV part of the Euros – they’ve gotten shit.

Clearly this is a master tactic. I should grudgingly accept Brazil next.

ITV: “choose the man who shed a tear, he is one of you.” Oh do sod off, you terrible tv channel. Jingoism TV will make it hard to support England. As will the love story between the pundits and utterly unenjoyable figures like Ashley Cole, John Terry and Wayne Rooney. Rooney returning from suspension to walk right into another red card almost seems written in the stars.

And yet, England seem to be doing everything they can to get me to like them. They’ve only signed Roy Hodgson as their manager, who I am a big fan of.

Hodgson's had good successes at Halmstads, Malmo, Neuchatel, Switzerland (he got them to third in the FIFA rankings), Inter, Kobenhavn, Finland and Fulham.

The interesting bit from his history is that every single job he's taken (except Blackburn and Liverpool) he has raised them from their current position, some to uncharted heights, some to positions of recovery where someone else can come in and reap the reward. If that history continues...

Jon will attest I’ve defended him enough times. As a Liverpool fan, it is awfie kind of Jon to have held back from lamping me over it too!

They also have a wonderful young striker named Welbeck, who I quite like too. And quite a few young players coming through the ranks who seem nice enough, and far better raw talents than the so called Golden Generation.

Its hard to call how they’ll do. The blatant English way would be to lose to France, draw Sweden, narrowly beat Ukraine and then go down in a blaze of glory to Spain. A potential Italy/England quarterfinal could finally answer that age old question: who is worse at penalties, Italy or England? Of course, to do either scenario, they need to get through the group. And its a group that has got trickier as time gets nearer.

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on England? I really like Roy Hodgson & hope he succeeds as England manager but I - & more importantly I suspect the players - would probably have been more excited & possibly galvanised (again the players not me) by a Redknapp appointment. I guess with expectations so low England could still have a decent tournament - but with Wilshere still injured & Walcott still flattering to deceive it's hard to imagine the other players added to the ageing remnants of our supposed Golden Generation exceeding recent limited achievements.

Jon: Let’s run through the modern England manual on how to prepare for a major tournament. Firstly make sure your best forward is subject to a ban thanks to a daft sending off in the last qualifier. Then, after telling your expensively hired foreign manager with an immaculate pedigree that he can’t have a player as captain but can still pick him, be shocked when he decides that constitutes unacceptable interference in his post and leaves with no obvious successor in sight. Then dally over the search for his successor and give him just over a month to prepare a team for a major tournament. While you’re at it, introduce an artificial limitation which lurches back to having to appoint an Englishman as manager and effectively leaves a field of two rather than actually conducting a wide ranging search for the best candidates.

Can’t fail, name on the trophy already.

All that’s contributed to a distinct lack of the usual enthusiasm for the team’s chances – whilst Capello may not have been overly popular, Roy Hodgson’s hardly a manager whose teams fire the imagination with great excitement. It’ll likely be his traditional, very English methods, hard work on the training ground, two banks of four and plenty more hard work for the centre forward receiving long balls, not for them the fantasy of tiki taka or the organised beauty of the Germans. And then there’s the final hurrah for the remnant of the Golden Generation – Lampard and Barry have been forced out through injury but Cole, Terry and Gerrard provide the last links to what can be seen to be better, more positive times. That aside it’s a largely risk free selection, only the enforced call up of Jack Butland, England’s Under 20 World Cup star last summer, and the exciting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provide a hint of risk. Early friendlies don’t encourage much hope, although they resulted in 1-0 wins England were quite happy to cut their amount of possession as much as David Cameron’s government cuts public services. An austerity team for an austerity nation then.

Gav: The MOST insular squad of the lot. All the players play in England. I guess that means the English league is the best/worst (delete as appropriate) in the world. They have Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom are a product of Southampton’s mighty youth system. “The Ox” is only 18 but he plays with a maturity that Walcott can only dream of.

I’m so glad to see that Gerrard is finally England captain. I think he’s deserved it for years but has been overlooked for that big alleged racist John Terry. The squad looks very pedestrian, but when I try to think of improvements I can’t really see any. I’d love to see Carroll have a great tournament.

Keld, Denmark: An interesting mix of experience and young starlets. Probably not a bad choice to pick Hodgson, who knows how to control the small teams, who are not expected to win it all Hopefully he will realize that fielding both Lampard and Gerrard in a 4-4-2 is not going to win England any major tournaments. John Terry will need to improve his form if England is to stand any chance.

Joao Diogo Reis: England qualified easily, in a hard group: Montenegro, Switzerland, Wales and Bulgaria aren’t small teams. They did it undefeated. 

So, they are back to the European Championship, after missing Euro 2008. Once again they are in France’s group; once again their first game will be against France. 

In 1992, they were also in France and Sweden’s group – they were eliminated. 

They were in Sweden’s group in the 2002 and 2006. In both occasions they progressed from the group stages, alongside the Swedes. 

They will be upset because Rooney is suspended for the first two games. But do they really miss him? Was he in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups? I know that I scored as many goals as he did in these tournaments, and I didn’t even had to travel to Germany and South Africa. 

England never won a European Championship, and although they like to consider themselves one of Europe’s big football nations, they are only 9th in the European Championships all-time table.

Michael Note: Someone praised Wales in this series, and it *wasn’t* Jon? Bloody hell, thats a turn up for the books!

Thoughts on France?

Michael: This century they have shown a great aptitude for crashing out in the group stage of things. Which I suppose is one step better than Scotland, who have shown the same aptitude for not qualifying for things. That said, Laurent Blanc almost has the easiest job in the entire tournament. I’ve never seen French football at a lower international ebb, confidence wise, and there’s almost nothing he could do that would make his tournament go worse than a Domenech one. But for a Zidane moment of madness, Raymond Domenech might have won the World Cup. That’s a scary thought. I think its widely accepted France have a long way to go to be a force again, and this is a stepping stone in that direction. Even bullish UEFA President Platini doesn’t rate them. I don’t think they’ll go far in the tournament. That twenty game winning streak has hidden some weak performances, and they still have the issue of Evra, who seems determined to gift chances to the opposition these days. I suspect if it goes, and early to England, the usual infighting will start up. There are still traces of the Domenech camp in Team France, Blanc needs to axe them all before he can start properly afresh.

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on France? Probably at least as poor as England in South Africa & they seemed to struggle a bit in qualifying for this tournament too. But Blanc seems to have been working his magic slowly but surely & there is a huge amount of talent in the team so could be relative dark horses.

Gav: They have a good side but I don’t see them doing too well this year. I have nothing insightful to say here, sorry. Moving on... 

Michael: Never stopped ITV.

Gav: Friends DONT compare friends to ITV, you know. 

Michael: I’m so sorry.

Jon: How to head into a tournament in a positive frame of mind – have your coach publicly say your aim is just to win one game, then add one of your country’s finest ever players, Euro 84 hero and UEFA president Michel Platini dismiss everyone bar Benzema and Ribery as average. And qualifying? Well it hardly matter how you get there, but scraping ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina hardly counts as impressive. It isn’t exactly going in with the confident swagger of Euro 2000, rather one of a team who haven’t won a game at a tournament since Zidane did to Materazzi what plenty of other players would have liked to.

But then you look at recent results which Blanc seems to be hoping won’t be noticed… France arrive with a twenty game unbeaten run behind them. They’ve forgotten how to lose. And while Gourcuff’s absence deprives them of one of their best creative players it shows that Blanc has one eye on avoiding the shenanigans that blighted their campaign in South Africa . Blanc’s modest ambitions conceal the quality of a work in progress – M’Vila and Nasri are capable of loading bullets and Benzema and Ribery more than capable of firing them.

Keld, Denmark: They have been slow and predictable on the pitch, and exciting off the pitch in the last two tournaments. This time they should probably try to switch those two things around. Franck Ribéry will have to step up as the offensive creator; a role he hasn’t fulfilled lately on the national side.

Joao Diogo Reis: France was eliminated at the group stages in Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. They couldn’t win a single game in these tournaments. 

They finally fired Domenech, now Blanc in in charge, and Les Bleus have a new aura. 

This time they shouldn’t have a tournament as bad as the last two: 1 draw followed by 2 defeats in both.
Blanc selected 11 players that never played a major tournament, plus two who weren’t in the 2010 WC infamous squad (Nasri and Benzema). 

Maybe after this tournament France will regain its place as one of Europe’s and the World’s strongest teams. At the moment there are still doubts about how good they really are: unlike England, France’s qualifying group wasn’t particularly difficult, and they even needed a penalty kick in the last game to tie with Bosnia and avoid the playoffs. At least the penalty kick was honest, unlike their qualification for South Africa 2010.

Thoughts on Sweden?

Jon: By contrast to England’s chaos and France’s long faces the Swedes come in to the tournament unruffled, only sweating on whether Johan Elmander will be fit or not. They ensured qualification as best runners-up, beating the previously unbeaten Dutch 3-2 in the final game to secure their spot. Key men Kallstrom and Ibrahimovic have had fine seasons, as, more quietly, has Seb Larsson at Sunderland. If qualification is anything to go by you can consign the stereotype of flat-pack efficiency to the dustbin too, the Swedes scoring plenty during qualifying. As ever, they’ll be awkward opposition and won’t be fazed by the intimidating prospect of kicking off against the co-hosts.

Michael: Sweden are a side I ruled out in my mind long ago, and then I saw their squad announced. It is an interesting mix of old and young, newer names alongside older warhorses. In Ibrahimovic, they have one of the more mercurial talents in Europe. When his head is on straight, every defence in the world would have to worry. The worrying sign is that this season, his head HAS Been on straight. All of their key players have had good personal club seasons and their confidence will be high. The win over Holland which qualified them seemed to see the genesis of a newer, brave, attack minded Sweden which is a joy to witness. It also saw the world stage appearance of Ola Toivonen, a man I saw many times covering the Europa League last year. A fine talent. The defence is where they are shakiest. It may need to be a case of “we’ll score four if you score three” and if they can pull that off, they’ll have a world of Sweden fans before long. So rule them out at your peril, if the cards fall in the right way, they could be dark horses for the whole thing.

Keld, Denmark: They have plenty of options in the striking department with Elmander, Tovionen, and Rosenberg all hoping to partner up with Zlatan Ibrahimović up front. The problems lie further back on the pitch where 34-year old Olof Mellberg and 35-year old Anders Svensson are expected to lead the defence and midfield respectively.

Gav: Not bad. They certainly have what it takes to finish above England. Lets hope they don’t though.

Joao Diogo Reis: Sweden is back to a major tournament, after missing the 2010 World Cup.
They were the best runner up from all the qualifying groups, so they qualified directly to Euro 2012, avoiding playoffs. 

4 years ago they won their first game (against title holders Greece) and then lost the following two (against Spain and Russia) and were eliminated. This time, they may repeat this sequence. First game against Ukraine should be the easiest, but then, against England and France, it should be a lot more complicated. Sweden’s weak defense should have a lot of problems to stop Walcott, Gerrard, Young, Ribéry, Nasri, Malouda, etc
They have a lot of players who will be having their debut in a major tournament (12), but they also have players with a lot of experience. Mellberg will be playing is 4th consecutive European Championship.

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on Sweden? Always seem to play England. The games never seem particularly memorable. 1994 - when they played in one of my favourite World Cup games (vs Romania) seems like a long time ago. Perhaps because it is a long time ago...

Thoughts on Ukraine, the co-hosts?

Jon: As with Poland it’s difficult to judge – we simply can’t say how good Ukraine will be in a competitive game. The lack of competitive matches over the last couple of years has seen their ranking sink to 50th in the world, but it’s a false position. That said, the rankings don’t lie so badly that they’re not the outsiders for qualification with the other three teams in the group in the world’s top 20. That’s before we reach the goalkeeping crisis, with injuries and drug bans combining to rule three keepers, including first choice Shokovsky out – as a result two of the three keepers in the squad are uncapped and. The sentimentalist in me hopes for a fine swansong for the man who was the best striker around before Chelsea got hold of him, Andrei Shevchenko but it’s difficult to see someone at the very end of his career can provide the spark up front to take his country through. If they were to finish third with one win they’d be doing well, to qualify for the quarter finals and beyond should see them as national heroes.

Gav: I recently went to Kiev, it was quite nice.

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on Ukraine, the co-hosts? I'm still finding it hard to forgive them for their part in THAT World Cup game with Switzerland. At least the Swiss bought some forgiveness by producing the likes of Ben Khalifa, Xhaka & Shaqiri when the Swiss won the U17 World Cup in 2009. (Wow - was that really 3 years ago...) Sorry digressing... Possibly because I've got little to say about Ukraine except that considering the opposition gives me a little more hope for England...

Keld, Denmark: They stand a decent chance of proceeding in the tournament. They will try to be tight in the back with a lot of responsibility at Bayern veteran Tymoschuk, while hoping that the flair of Yarmolenko and Milevskiy will be enough offensively.

Joao Diogo Reis: Ukraine was an impressive World Cup quarter finalist in 2006, but since then they missed the next two major tournaments, and only qualified again to Euro 2012 as hosts. They’ll be the only debutant in the European Championships (if we ignore that they were part of the USSR). 

They have a big Dynamo Kiev legion (9 of the 23 players in their squad)… Players that this season’s Europa League couldn’t even defeat Maccabi Tel-Aviv or Stoke City! 

The rest of the players aren’t impressive either. 

6 years ago, although Ukraine reached the quarter finals, they did it by defeating non-European opponents (Saudi Arabia and Tunisia). They also eliminated Switzerland after a penalty shootout, but they were trashed by Spain and Italy (0-4 and 0-3 respectively). 

They’ll be playing at home, but Austria and Switzerland were also playing at home 4 years ago, and that hasn’t helped them much.

Should Rooney go to the Euros?

Michael: Yes, in the right frame of mind, Rooney is a valuable asset to England. The problem is his head can go down when things start to go wrong, and he has the red mist that even Cantona would frown at. It wouldn’t be beyond him to get sent off again, but nor would it to produce a hattrick in the crunch Ukraine game. Like with Balotelli though, you can’t afford not to bring your mercurial forwards, even if you want to strangle them half the time!


If you mean should he have had his ban reduced then no. If you mean should England pick a man who will potentially play only one game then yes. He’s clearly the most talented of England’s creative players and the one most likely to provide an unexpected moment of quality that could decide a tight game.

Better question – should John Terry go? Heh heh heh…

Michael: No, he shouldn’t have.

Gav: Nope. I’d feel bad if Carroll puts in a couple of really nice performances and then gets dropped the second that Rooney is eligible to play again.

Joao Diogo Reis: It depends. If England plans to play 3 games and come home, no. It doesn’t make sense to select a player who will be unavailable for 2/3 of the games. However, if they play to go further, ultimately reaching the final, then being unavailable for 2 games doesn’t look so bad anymore. 

Oscar Tabárez had the same problem with Cristián Rodríguez two years ago. He was suspended for the first two games, and Tabárez opted for not selecting him. What could be seen as lack of ambition (he thought that he would return home quickly), but Uruguay ended up going all the way until the top 4, thus playing 7 games.

Keld, Denmark: Andy Caroll is (probably rightfully) England’s first choice without him, so off course he should go.

Players to watch out for?

Michael: For people who haven’t seen him yet, and this blog gets much world wide traffic so thats beyond the realm of possibility, Welbeck is quite the talent. Yarmolenko would be the obvious choice for the Ukraine, and he does seem tipped to lead their line for the foreseeable decade, but beyond him, I suggest keeping an eye on Butko who is earning plaudits in UEFAs own Euro preview. Naturally, for the Swedes, look out for Toivonen. He is brilliant. During the Iceland game, he got fouled, stayed on his feet, nearly fouled the man who fouled him and just about kept the ball, getting a free kick for Sweden in the process. Impact player. He also scored. Also Pontus Wernbloom, because he has a wonderful moniker And for the French, Giroud. He is moving to Bayern Munich. He just won the title with Montpellier. Lets see what he can do in his first major tournament..

Jon: I’ve yet to see Yarmolenko, but he’s displaced Voronin (not hard say some English pundits) and has been given the pressure of being called the ‘new Shevchenko’. No pressure then, but an enticing prospect. Kallstrom will be the creative hub of the Swedes and obviously there’s that quite useful striker of theirs who collects league champions medals like Joey Barton picks up suspensions. The Man United pairing of Wellbeck and Young look to England’s best hope of sparks in Rooney’s absence, though Roy Hodgson’s style means you can probably look for the ball on to Andy Carroll’s forehead as the key tactic. And for France, if fit, M’Vila’s rarely dull to watch.

Dave Beattie:
England. Is it fantasy to dream of Walcott doing in several big games here what he did against Croatia back in 2008?

Michael: Almost certainly.

Dave Beattie:France. The player I know least in France's likely starting XI is Yann M'Vila of Rennes - a defensive midfielder who will be 22 during the tournament. I liked Blaise Matuidi when he was at Saint-Etienne & it's interesting to see a goal-getter from Montpellier - Olivier Giroud - in the squad too.

Sweden. I enjoy a Seb Larsson free kick. If he doesn't take them Rasmus Elm of Az could be one to watch - in open play too.

Ukraine. Taking something of a pinsticker's approach - 5 goals in 15 international games from midfield for 22 year old Yevhen Konoplyanka of Dnipro looks impressive. Will also be interesting to see how Bohdan Butko - apparently first choice right back - does at international level given he can't get into Shakhtar's first team.

Gav: Andy Carroll. He will finally justify that big price tag. In case anyone wasn’t aware that Liverpool paid a lot of money for him?

Michael: 35 million, I heard.

Gav: Yes.

Michael: You could get 35 Helder Postigas for that.

Gav: I think we got the equivalent.

Joao Diogo Reis: Young - important player for England, with 3 goals and 3 assists in the qualifiers. Relatively unknown until this season, where he had his Champions League debut and now will play his first major tournament
M’Vila – We’ll see if he can live up to the expectation of “wonder defensive midfielder”
Toivonen – scored the winning goal against Holland that qualified Sweden to Euro 2012. Despite that, and several appearances and goals for PSV in the Europa League, he isn’t certain of a starting XI place… but can be one of the options used by Sweden during the matches.
Yarmolenko – his role can be crucial for Ukraine (helping to form a midfield 4 when the team defends, but also supporting the forwards when the team attacks)

Keld, Denmark: Gary Cahill’s brave defending helped Chelsea to their miraculous Champions League win, and although the defensive work won’t be of the same quantity, his high level of quality will be needed in the English back four.
In the absence of Sagna, Lille’s Mathieu Debuchy will start at right back and could earn himself a move to a top club if he can take his great club form into this tournament.
Sebastian Larsson’s precise free kicks and crosses from the right wing will be one of Sweden’s most dangerous weapons.
Andriy Shevchenko will probably not start, but he will be the talisman of this Ukrainian side, and he could still have an impact off the bench.

Michaels Note: Between editing this and posting, Gary Cahill has been ruled out of the Euros with a broken jaw. A blow for England.

Are we (as in nearly everyone) wrong to discount Sweden in this group?
NB: This question was asked in April, before I got the teams in and did a complete 180.

Michael: I said in March they were the side I was most counting out of the tournament. So what do they do? They only go and name the most attacking line up in their history, and announce they are having a go at the tournament, because “why not?”. All of their top players have come off good personal seasons at club level. They have break through stars, goals in the team, and nothing to lose. Suddenly it doesn’t look so one sided a group.

Gav: To discount Sweden would be to make the assumption that England are better than them. So no, I will not discount Sweden.

Jon: The question should be if we’re right to count England in.

Michael: I notice neither of you are counting France out. To be fair to the French, they do have form for leaving tournaments early these days.

Keld, Denmark: I think this is a quite equal group, so I think it will be wrong to discount them.

Joao Diogo Reis: Maybe… But Sweden’s defense seems too weak to stand a chance against the opponents that it will meet.

Dave Beattie: Probably not - though I'd discount Ukraine at least as much if they weren't hosts. And England could really be anything - from gallant losing semi-finalists to "worse than 1988" - so discounting Sweden might prove foolish purely due to the flaws of others.

Attack-minded is good to know though. I like attack-minded teams. Though I hope I don't live to regret it from an English perspective

Pick of the group? 

Michael: France v Sweden as it may be pivotal to who advances, and could produce an almighty shock.

Jon: Ukraine-Sweden should be worth watching to experience the atmosphere of the co-hosts’ first game but from a footballing point of view the most promising game looks to be France-Sweden. Follow the Swedes for the fun in this group then…

Dave Beattie: Pick of the group? I'm already feeling nervous at the thought of watching any competitive game involving England but lets be positive & say that the opening game vs France ought to be the best. At least there the quality of the opposition potentially limits the disappointment of defeat.

Gav: France vs England?

Joao Diogo Reis: England vs. Ukraine – the return of Rooney

Keld also picked England v Ukraine for the same reason.

Who will qualify?

Dave Beattie: France and less comfortably England

Jon: France and Sweden

Michael: England and Sweden

Gav: France and England.

Joao Diogo Reis: France and England

Alan Kalder: England and France

Keld, Denmark: Ukraine and England

France 5/7

England 6/7

Sweden 2/7

Ukraine 1/7

Which means only Ireland had no votes for them getting to a Quarterfinal. Its the tightest Euros in some time. Me and Jon both went for the Swedish gamble. Will it pay off? Watch this space. Or preferably the games. If you watch this space then, you’ll miss the matches. Which will almost certainly be AS exciting as this space right here. I know. Thrilling.

The bonus question. Seriously, the random Stats and stuff is the bit people seem to like best.

Gav: You keep bigging up these random stats but I never have any. The people I met in Kiev don’t like football.

Michael: I’m shocked Anders Svensson exists, and is IN the Swedish squad, and Gav hasn’t made any Southampton references. Beyond shocked. Slipping standards here. If Pekharts winning the tournament for once sitting on a Saints bench, what is Svensson doing after taking them to an FA Cup final? Getting deified next Monday? 

Gav: WTF! He's still playing? I thought his legs would've given up by now!

Michael: He's still playing.

Gav: Oh... my... god! I deserve all the piss taking I can get for that one. He was one of my favourite players too!

Michael: Anders Svensson, ladies and gentlemen, earning the Freedom of Estonia in a ceremony next weekend.

Jon: Bad news for Sweden – no country’s ever done a Euros/Eurovision double before.

Michael: Actually, pedant here, but Greece won the 2004 Euros and followed it up with the 2005 Eurovision. Which is a double of sorts.

And that was the group D preview!