Welcome to Four Five Two’s third-world class coverage of Euro 2012. We are taking an in-depth look at the 16 teams who kick off play Friday afternoon. If we feel ambitious we may even have some other articles up. As always we will also provide predictions so you can make fun of us for being completely wrong. We close our previews with Group D, or the Group Nobody Likes.
Quite simply, nobody except for the countries’ inhabitants likes any of the teams in Group D, with the exception of Sweden. England will continue to self-flagellate about the “Spirit of ’66,” while really embracing the Spirit of ’50, when the Mighty Magyars gave the Brits a lesson in football, and England conveniently put the blinders on, and will also count England’s Brave Racist John Terry among its number. France will continue to have International Douchebag Princes Franck Ribery and Patrice Evra, no matter how much more likeable Le President is than Starchild Domenech. Ukraine might not be weak, but it is certainly racist. And something something Swedish Bikini Team joke.
With the easy jokes out of the way, let’s get to the teams, in alphabetical order. Allons-y!
Past Accolades: Winners, 1966 World Cup (and won’t EVER shut up about it); Third Place, 1968 European Championships
Highest Finish at the Euros: Third Place, 1968
Manager: Roy Hodgson
England come into the Euros with the FA having jettisoned Fabio Capello, flirted with ‘Arry Redknapp from afar so long that Tim from the British “Office” wished they’d have hurried up, and finally settling on the appointment of Roy Hodgson. The managerial move turns England from a team focused on organization and pragmatism . . . into a team focused on organization and pragmatism.
Hodgson’s selections for the Euros have focused on experience, harmony and familiarity, with any dissenting voices cast aside. Hence, the controversial exclusions of Michael Carrick and Micah Richards from the initial squad, and both players’ refusal to sign up for the standby list. Injuries have also befallen the squad, with Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill, Frank Lampard and John Ruddy ruled out after sustaining various injuries in training and friendlies, while Kyle Walker and JWAF were ruled out prior to the squad being named. Main striker Wayne Rooney will also miss the first two matches of the group stages to suspension. I’d expect all of these losses to be just a bit too much to bear for England, and an opening loss to France will prove too much to overcome. They’ll finish just behind the Swedes.
Past Accolades:Winners, 1998 World Cup; Runners-Up, 2006 World Cup; Third place, 1958 and 1986 World Cups. Winners, 1984 and 2000 European Championships. Winners, 2001 and 2003 Confederations Cup
Highest Finish at the Euros: Winners, 1984, 2000
Manager: Laurent Blanc
After a tumultuous World Cup 2010, Raymond Domenech, who many believed had outstayed his welcome by one tournament, was relieved of his duties, with the wildly popular Laurent Blanc, who was in the middle of reviving Bordeaux (a revival that has since stalled without its architect), taking over. Blanc has unraveled some of the infighting that doomed France to an early exit from South Africa, with a renewed focus on youth. Of the 23 men going to Polkraine, only two- Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda- have more than 50 caps for Les Bleus, while 13 of the squad are 26 or younger.
Blanc has replaced Domenech’s “Continental” 4-2-3-1 with more of a straight 4-3-3, hoping to activate the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, and it’s been by and large effective. The team also demonstrated the possession of a very valuable 5th gear in its comeback victory over Iceland in the latest round of tune-up friendlies, and also comes in largely healthy. Look for them to swamp the English in the opening match and cruise to the Group win over Ukraine, before drawing against the Swedes.
Past Accolades: Runners Up, 1958 World Cup; Third Place, 1994 World Cup
Highest Finish at the Euros: Semifinalists, 1992
Manager: Erik Hamren
In a way, this group is just about perfect for Sweden. A form of the English game, focused on formation and system, was imported largely by England gaffer Roy Hodgson in the mid-70s. A further dedication to hard work was undertaken by Lars Lagerback for much of the 90s and 00s. Under Erik Hamren, however, the shackles are off of Sweden’s attacking force, which includes mercurial striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wing wizards Sebastian Larsson and Rasmus Elm, and one of Johan Elmander and Ola Toivonen. Hamren has used each of Zlatan, Elmander and Toivonen in the pivot role of his 4-2-3-1, with Ibrahimovic behind Elmander as the best combination. Meanwhile, the backline will push forward, with Olly Mellberg providing steel through the center.
The Swedes’ high pressing game will cause some trouble to all three of its groupmates, and I’d reckon Sweden will surprise by qualifying for the knockouts, unseating injury-plagued England.
Past Accolades: Quarterfinalists, 2006 World Cup
Highest Finish at the Euros: First time competing
Manager: Oleh Blohkin
The Ukraine squad is old in all the wrong places. Its attack will be led by three players over the age of 32 – Andriy Shevchenko, Andriy Voronin and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk- while its defensive unit only carries three players over the age of 25. This is exactly the wrong combination to play against two attack-minded sides and an England that’ll be getting back Wayne Rooney. The co-hosts are gonna get killed.
France: 7 pts (W, W, D)
Sweden: 5 pts (W, D, D)
England: 4 pts (L, D, W)
Ukraine: 0 pts (L, L , L)