Finally, if even a little bit late, I get around to the last group. So here is my glance at group D. On paper this is probably the easiest of all the groups to predict but then again you just can’t take it as given and so I begin with England.
As I am writing this post the rankings for this month are just in and the English team have moved up 1 to 6 in the World rankings. They are managed by Roy Hodgson who was the surprise choice by the FA. to replace Fabio Capello after months of speculation and expectation that Tottenham’s Harry Redkanpp would be the man to step in. He is a highly experienced manager having led many clubs and countries over the last 30 years. Surprisingly enough they are coming to this tournament without the usual hype surrounding them. Usually the English media have the whole nation revved up, having them believe that they are World beaters and are definitely going to win this time, only for them to crash out at an early stage and for the manager in particular to pick up the blame for the mess. There may be a few reasons for this, the Olympics coming up in July, the Quenn’s Jubilee or the unbelievable finish to the Premier league. Whatever it is it can only be an advantage to the players. But there is a lot of problems for the manager to have to cope with as well. For instance, there is debate over Rio Ferdinand’s omission, Wayne Rooney will miss the first 2 matches due to suspension and John Terry’s imminent court case must be hanging over him like a big rain cloud. So taken that into account these are the players I will choose to focus on. Danny Welbeck of Manchester United is a tremendous young talent who seems to be coming of age at just the right time. He is a lad with great heart but also a great passer and dribbler and scores some great goals. No doubt he will start the first 2 games because of Rooney’s ban and Jermain Defoe’s Father passing away. Steven Gerrard of Liverpool is a very special player for his club. He has power, pace, vision and goals in abundance but on the international scene he blows hot and cold. That may change though, now he has been handed the captain’s armband. Finally John Terry could be anything here. He is the true leader of the Chelsea team, where his commitment, passion, calmness under pressure and ability to score a few goals has been the bedrock behind their success in recent years. His court case may weigh heavy on his mind here and they are all ready down players in defence. They are priced 12/1 by the bookies which seems about right.
The next team up are France, who are ranked 14 in the world following the mess they left behind at the last World cup. Their manager is Laurent Blanc and is without doubt one of the best young managers in the game at present. He took over after the players revolted openly at the Raymond Domenech regime and has brought them here on the back of a 19 game unbeaten run. Replacing the golden age of French football was always going to prove difficult but Blanc seems to be going about his work in the right way as he has a great amount of talent at his disposal. They, like the English, are coming here without much fuss which again can only be a good thing. They have won this competition twice in the past, in 1984 on home soil and then in 2000 to add to the World crown they won in 1998. The players I am picking to focus on are; Hugo Lloris who is the Lyon goalkeeper and the last line in a tough French defence. His positioning is second to none and pulls off some breathtaking saves. Definitely one of the best ‘keepers in the World at the moment. Frank Ribery of Bayern Munich is the driving force in the middle for France. He is a tough tackler who can mix hard graft with skill and is regularly the catalyst behind a lot of their goals. Karem Benzema is the star man of the team. Plays for the star studded Real Madrid team, he has excellent skill and balance and that together with his strength means he scores lots of goals but can also assist in many goals. If you fancy a bet on them you can get them at 10/1 and this represents very good value.
Sweden are ranked 17 in the world and are led here by Erik Hamren. They are coming here as one of the lesser lights and not too much is known about them. In saying that, they did qualify for EURO 2012 as the best runner-up from the qualifying groups where they actually beat Holland in Amsterdam 3-2. According to news reports, the Swedish were a team that always stuck to a 4-4-2 formation and when the manager came in and changed that to a 4-2-3-1 set up, he believed it was responsible for their up-turn in recent form. Their best finish in the competition was a semi-final finish at the 1992 games, where they were the host nation. My players to watch include Johan Elmander of Galatasary who is now the lone striker in the Swedish team. He is blessed with beautiful close control for a tall man and is capable of scoring some magic goals. That said he hasn’t got many lately so will want to be more involved here. Olof Mellberg is the most experienced player in the defence and indeed the team. His presence is much appreciated and brings vast experience with him. These games will be his 6th at a major international tournament. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is their main man. When he is on his game he is one of the best in the world. Great technical ability and skill and also very fast for his size. He will be the man to make way for Elmander up front so will be asked to be more creative. They are one of the rank outsiders and priced at 66/1
Now on to the final team in the group, the Ukraine. They are ranked 50 in the World and are managed by the legendary Soviet record caps holder, Oleg Blokhin. Like Poland, they are coming here without a competitive game under their belt for over 2 years and it looks like they will be going out early, such is their poor form of late. But in saying that, they are playing at home and this might give them a major boost. It is also the first time they have played at the finals of the European championship. The fact that they are also a young team on the international scene, having been in existence for just over 20 years would have a lot to do with it. They are the least known team here but I have picked 3 to watch and they are; Anatoliys Tymoshchuk of Bayern Munich is an imposing midfielder and the star man in the team. He will be behind most of their attacks and a lot will be expected of him. Yaroslav Rakitshy of Shaktar Donetsk is a young defender beginning to make his mark. He is believed to be very hard working but still has a lot of improvement in him. Finally the great Andriy Shevchenko of Dynamo Kiev is a fading star these days. Surely this will be his final chance to play on the big stage so may have something to say. Was one of the top players in the World a few years back and had everything in his game. Speed, control, agility and a goal machine besides. Another rank outsider to win and this shows in the50/1 price the bookies have on them.
My predictions for the finishing places in group D are as follows;
Group winners: France
3rd place: Sweden
Wooden spoon: Ukraine
I hope my posts covering the teams competing at these finals have been of interest to you and glad to get all the groups finished. Now it has kicked off, I will be watching in hope for Ireland and pray we can get to the quarter-finals. I will make my predictions for the knock-out stages before group B kicks off tomorrow.