Euro 2012: part 2
|June 12, 2012||Posted by Joe Slater under sport|
After reviewing the prospects of the teams in groups A and B, this commentator will now take a look at the Euro hopes of the international sides in groups C and D.
Despite their win over the Republic of Ireland on Sunday evening, Croatia have certainly taken a step back from the side that denied England a place in the Euros ’08 and went on to finish ahead of eventual finalists, Germany, in their group. Slaven Bilic’s side failed to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa and this will be his last tournament as manager. The obvious name to jump out from the squad is Tottenham’s Luka Modric who plays in the same drifting midfield role as he does for his club; after a stellar start to the season he badly dropped off, perhaps due to Harry Redknapp’s lack of rotation, and because of this there are concerns about his fitness for the tournament. The midfield is the key area for Croatia if they are to move quickly and fluidly from defence to attack. The retirement of the Kovac brothers makes defence a real weakness for the Croatians, although the emergence of Nikica Jelavic up front will hopefully take some of the pressure away from the elderly back four. If Croatia are to be successful they’ll have to effectively use the counter attack against teams likely to have more possession than them (Spain, Italy) and you feel that their win against Ireland in their first game could prove crucial.
Prediction: Group stage
This Italy side are not what you’d call a conventional Italian side; Manager Cesare Prandelli has instilled an attacking and attractive playing mentality. Without the quality wingers to play 4-2-3-1, Italy are instead much more likely to start with a diamond in midfield, these four will play in a rotation taking it in turns to play in the more attacking role. This should help make up for another of Italy’s problems, a lack of a real number 10. The resurgence of Andrea Pirlo with Scudetto-winning Juventus has been monumental and he is real quality with a passing ability to rival anyone at the base of the diamond, although he offers little defensively. Defence is a problem for Italy, as they used only three at the back against Spain on Sunday to mirror the formation of many Italian sides. This meant moving Daniele De Rossi to the back, which is by no means his favoured position. Italy will most likely continue to use an all-Juventus pairing in the centre with the attacking runs of the full-backs being incredibly important for the fluidity of the team. Mario Balotelli will also have to find his form again if Italy are to make a serious mark on the tournament.
Republic of Ireland
Although rather bitterly reinforced by the result on Sunday, veteran coach Giovanni Trapattoni fully understands the limitations of his side; with perhaps the technically weakest side in the competition he has to stick to his game plan. Trapattoni worships his 4-4-2 and while this team’s playing style may not be glamorous, you can’t argue with the success they’ve had. Ireland will sit on the edge of their own box against most teams in this tournament and attempt to take any chances they get on the counter using the pace of their wingers. Richard Dunne sums up this team; one of the technically weakest centre backs in the Premiership who does the job of heading, clearing and blocking on the edge of the area better than almost anyone. The key for Trapattoni is that the team is more important than any of the individuals (something England tried to mirror in their opener yesterday afternoon). There’s no reason why Ireland can’t steal a draw in their group, but, especially after Sunday’s loss, advancing will be extremely tricky.
Prediction: Group stage
The reigning World and European champions are oddly not considered outright favourites for this tournament; maybe this has something to do with Barcelona’s failure to conquer Europe this season, or maybe it’s a simple indicator that teams are starting to work out how to counter their tiki-taka style of football. With the most natural ability and squad depth in forward positions, the job for Manager Vicente del Bosque is fitting them all into a cohesive and pragmatic unit. But this desire leads to problems with balance for the Spanish; when they play Silva and Iniesta on the wings they lack any real width and come far too narrow, as seen when during their first game against Italy, making it much easier for teams to crowd them out in the centre. Del Bosque’s unwillingness to play Navas or Pedro may be his downfall, but the selection of the striker, or lack thereof, will also be important. Without the prolific David Villa, Fernando Llorente was probably the favourite and his ability to dominate centre halves creates a plan B for Spain, but as shown during Spain’s game on Sunday, Fernando Torres may also get a chance despite his lack of form; his familiarity with the squad and system might lead to him getting the nod in future games. Spain are pretty solid at the back with the loss of Carles Puyol being hugely overstated. After their draw against Italy, expect a few 1-0 wins from Spain who, for all their attacking fluency, may struggle to break down organised defences.
England’s usually soaring ambitions have for this tournament been toned down. The unusual prospect of realism amongst the media has left a distinct possibility of England actually over-achieving; although you sense it will only take a few bad results for the press to turn on the new manager. Roy Hodgson has always set his teams up in a rigid and organised manner with the desire to show teamwork and be extremely difficult to break down. With just a few weeks to prepare his team, England may not be completely ready, although they do have more quality than many of the other teams seeking to use a similar tactic. Defensively, the absence of Rio Ferdinand will not make a large amount of difference, he has declined in recent years and Joleon Lescott is more than accomplished to sit alongside John Terry. Partner that with a world-class left-back and a serviceable right one, and it’s clear that defence is England’s strength. Goals will be hard to come by unless Danny Welbeck finds some new ability he’s been hiding from us, but a draw against France in the opening game was an excellent result. From here England should just about sneak out of the group, and with a returning Wayne Rooney might be able to turn a few heads.
Laurent Blanc has done a masterful job of turning his France team around; from the humiliation in South Africa to a 21-match unbeaten run, which has seen them beat the likes of Germany. Setting up in a 4-2-3-1, despite being left out of France’s opener due to injury, the fitness of Yann M’Vila will be important as he does the job of anchoring the midfield better than anyone else in their squad. The weakness of the defence has been overstated, while neither Philippe Mexes nor Adil Rami are particularly mobile, they are both athletic and will be able to handle most centre forwards. France’s strength however is amongst its forwards. The movement of the front four is impressive to watch and the quickness with which they move the ball is likely to tire out opposition and create gaps. Karim Benzema has been in superb form all season for Real Madrid and is a strong contender for the Golden Boot. If France’s attack can fire then they can be a serious contender.
For the first time in 18 years, Sweden enters a major international tournament without Head Coach Lars Lagerback. Sweden finally grew tired of Largerback’s defensive-minded approach and are looking to play much more attacking football under new coach, Erik Hamren. It’s impossible to ignore the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic who plays in a slightly different role to the one he plays for AC Milan, starting just behind the striker in the number 10 role. Going forward, Sweden have an array of attacking ability, Rasmus Elm and Sebastien Larsson are particularly influential on the wings. As Ukraine highlighted last night, defence is a problem for Sweden, with 34-year-old Olof Melberg continuing to be their best defender, this is likely to hold them back in the tournament. There was every chance Sweden could have progressed from this group, which would have been most likely at England’s expense, but this will be a struggle after their defeat to co-hosts Ukraine.
Prediction: Group stage
It seems like Andriy Shevchenko has been playing football for the past few years simply to play at this tournament and, as he began to demonstrate last night, it should be a poignant send-off for Ukraine’s greatest ever player. Although initially fitness concerns might have forced him to start from the bench, the former-Milan striker started and played over 80 minutes. Unfortunately that might be all there is to smile about for Ukraine, their preparations for the tournament have been hampered by a mysterious food poisoning outbreak. Despite their success last night, it’s still tricky to see a way out of the group for Ukraine. They have very little quality at the back and will force a lot of pressure on defensively minded midfielder Anotiliy Tymoschuk. They do have some talent on the wings, but Liverpool flop Andriy Voronin is unlikely to instil much fear in opposition defences.
Prediction: Group stage