June 5, 2012
Euro 2012: Group D PreviewEngland, Ukraine, Sweden and France
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY
To say England will be limping into Ukraine would be the mother of all understatements.
With Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry unable to take part in Euro 2012 because of crushing injuries suffered just weeks before the tournament kicks off, the Three Lions also will be without the services of striker Wayne Rooney for the first two games of the group stage. Rooney is serving a suspension after losing his cool during qualifying" the type of blow-your-top behaviour that too often has been associated with the English striker.
No Lampard and Barry to set the table for the entire tournament. No Rooney to provide goals in games against France and Sweden, two very respectable sides.
For new manager Roy Hodgson, the loss of those three components to start the tournament could provide the opportunity to inject some younger blood into the lineup. Indeed, Euro 2012 will be the stage for many of the country's up-and-coming kids to get a shot.
Hodgson was hired only in early May, months after Fabio Capello parted ways with the national squad. When England plays its first group game July 11 versus France, Hodgson will have been on the job for only five weeks.
English fans are said to be staying away from this tournament. In fact, about 2,500 tickets reserved for English fans were returned to UEFA by England because they had gone unsold.
Part of that is because of the ridiculous prices being charged in Ukraine. But some observers think a lack of confidence in the team is playing a significant role in the apathy of English fans.
2004-Quarterfinals, 2000-Group stage, 1996-Semifinals, 1992-Group stage, 1988-Group stage, 1980-Group stage, 1972-Quarterfinals, 1968-Third place
Thousands upon thousands of fans will be behind co-host Ukraine at Euro 2012.
At times, manager Oleh Blokhin must feel as if he has used that many players in his lineup for the Ukrainian national team during the past year.
Truth be told, he actually has used 43 over that span. That bloated number is a sign that Blokhin was looking to fill a series of holes by the time Euro 2012 rolled around, a tournament in which rosters are capped at 20.
There is no doubt that Blokhin's side will have the backing of its entire nation for Euro 2012, easily the biggest event in the country in the post-Communism era. In fact, just imagine the frenzy in Donetsk if the game there June 19 against England ends up determining which team advances into the knockout stage.
The on-field leader of Blokhin's squad will be 33-year-old Anitoliy Tymoshchuk, a skilled midfielder from Bayern Munich who was part of that team's heartbreaking 2-1 extra-time loss to Chelsea in the Champions League final late last month.
Tymoshchuk is the type of unflappable vet who can shake off such a gut-wrenching setback. His composure will serve as a settling force inside the locker room for a team that will be full of adrenalin while playing in front of the rabid home fans.
In addition, Tymoshchuk is the most-capped player in the young history of the national team, having racked up 117 of them by the time the tournament kicks off.
Ukrainian fans will be loud and proud once the tournament starts. Blokhin can only hope his squad will give them reason to cheer.
First time competing
At age 30, veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic is poised to have a breakout tournament at Euro 2012.
Having gone over the 30-goal mark for the first time in his illustrious career this past season, Ibrahimovic is the type of elite goal scorer who can prove to be the difference in a tournament considered to be a wide-open race to the finish.
Granted, the Swedes are in a tough group, having to go against the tradition of England, the youthful legs of France and host Ukraine.
But Sweden's manager, Erik Hamren, is well aware his team can be a handful when it is firing on all cylinders, something the Tre Kroners showed first hand during qualifying. In posting eight wins and just two losses, Hamren's squad scored an impressive 31 goals, an average of 3.1 per game.
One of those victories came by a 3-2 margin over the Dutch, the runners-up to Spain at World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Such a win over a quality opponent like the Netherlands served to boost the confidence of the Swedes, who could be a dark horse in this tournament.
In the process, Ibrahimovic will not have to carry the entire offensive workload for the Swedes. Winger Sebastian Larsson will be counted on for his share of the goals, too.
If the Swedes play to form, they could cause some damage. And you can bet Ibrahimovic, like any star player, will be relied upon to be at the centre of it.
2008-Group stage, 2004-Quarterfinals, 2000-Group stage, 1996-Preliminary round, 1992-Semifinals, 1988-Preliminary round, 1984-Preliminary round, 1980-Preliminary round, 1976-Preliminary round, 1972-Preliminary round, 1968-Preliminary round, 1964-Quarterfinals
When we last checked in on the French, they were humiliating themselves on the world stage at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
When star player Nicolas Anelka was suspended for exchanging heated words with then-coach Raymond Domenech, the team refused to get off the team bus during one particular practice day. It was viewed by the international press as a soccer version of mutiny.
With his country demanding answers, French president Nicolas Sarkozy called an emergency "crisis" meeting. He also ordered his sports minister to remain in South Africa as part of an effort by politicians to restore some "dignity."
It was the blackest of clouds for Les Bleus.
Two years later, new manager Laurent Blanc has done a major overhaul of the roster, with very few familiar faces still around from the underachieving side that went three-and-out in South Africa.
In fact, no team at Euro 2012 has been on a bigger roll than the French, who have put together an impressive 20-game unbeaten streak heading into their opening match June 11 versus rival England.
Look for this to be a coming-out party for budding star Samir Nasri, whose creative rushes can create havoc with opposing defenders. Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, Les Bleus allowed just four goals in 10 qualifying games, a sign to fellow Group D competitors England, Sweden and Ukraine that this French team is dangerous at both ends.
Of course, optimism surrounded France heading into World Cup 2010. And that didn't quite work out the way anyone had hoped, did it?
2008-Group stage, 2004-Quarterfinals, 2000-Winner, 1996-Semifinals, 1996-Group stage, 1992-Group stage, 1984-Winner, 1968-Quarterfinals, 1964-Quarterfinals, 1960-Fourth place