I will preface this saying I know it’s late. I have had computer issues as I have traveled over the last 24 hours. Saying that, here is my preview of Group D before the results are known of today’s games.
Group D is an interesting group. You have question marks with every team and there is no clear cut favorite. Playing desperate will be critical for these teams as they seek to advance. The two teams that decide to abandon cautious tactics and risk offense will go through.
Predicted Order of Finish- France, England, Sweden, Ukraine
France- Big time talent will dictate whether or not the French can erase the memories of the World Cup two years ago. Portions of the French team mutinied against the head coach and Les Bleus were eliminated in pool play. With a new coach in place (Laurent Blanc), the French have been on fire heading into the tournament. They have not lost in 20+ games and are firing on all cylinders.
Offensively, the line will be lead by Karim Benzema (Real Madrid- Spain) who had a fantastic club season. He will have others in support. Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich- Germany) is one of the world’s most dangerous offensive players. He is a creator and a finisher. Sami Nasri (Man City- England) is an elusive, ball-dribbling genius. He will be counted on to provide goals as well.
Yann M’Vila (Rennes- France) is injured which will hurt the French midfield, but Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle- England) will play the center midfield like his hair is on fire. He will be all over the place trying to jumpstart the French attack. The “X” factor could be Florent Malouda (Chelsea- England) who should see some time on the wing and will be expected to attack and help defend against the counter-attack. If Malouda is on his game, he can score goals and help the French to advance. If not, the French become somewhat predictable in attack as they will look to feed Ribery and Nasri from the midfield.
Defensively, the French are led by Patrice Evra (Man United- England) and Philippe Mexes (AC Milan- Italy). Mathieu Debuchy (Lille- France) will provide cover for both the forwards in attack and for Mexes and Evra in the back. He might be the most underrated French player on their roster.
In net, the French have a good one in Hugo Lloris (Lyon- France). If he plays as well as he usually does, the French will have success in this tournament moving forward.
Key Game- England (June 11th) – The French will win this group if they can get one point from England. If they get three points, I think they run away with the group. If they get beat here, the pressure will be immense moving forward as the players will have to answer questions about the previous World Cup and their mental fragility will be exposed.
Outlook- I think the French will win the group. They will win their quarterfinal game and have a chance to win in the semifinals depending on who they are matched up against. If they can get an early point, this will be a team to be reckoned with.
England- What type of team will we see when we look at England for the first time? Injuries have eliminated multiple potential starters and they will be without star striker Wayne Rooney in their first two games, I think this will lead England to play very defensively and look to pounce on the counterattack. This could prove to be their downfall and I think that they will have some issues offensively as the tournament continues. English coach Roy Hodgson is under tremendous pressure to make player personnel decisions that could determine if his team advances
It all starts up top. With Rooney out, Hodgson will have to choose from Danny Welbeck (Man United- England), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham- England) or Andy Carroll (Liverpool- England). These are not names that strike fear into defenses. Welbeck and Defoe can beat you with pace and Carroll can beat you with his physicality. I think Welbeck will be the choice and he is going to have to produce for this team to advance.
In midfield, you have a strong veteran presence. Ashley Young (Man United- England) will be the biggest threat going forward. He provides precise crosses, is excellent on set pieces and can score goals from difficult angles. Captain Steven Gerrard (Liverpool- England) and Scott Parker (Tottenham- England) will have to control the pace of the game and link the back with the front providing searching balls for Welbeck and Young to pounce on. Young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal- England) will be included at some point and he is special. His pace and on-ball tricks will provide England with some flair that they have been lacking.
England’s defense will be its strength. They are rock solid in the middle with Joleon Lescott (Man City- England) and John Terry (Chelsea- England). Their wing backs are offensive threats. Ashley Cole (Chelsea- England) is arguably the best left back in the world and Glen Johnson has a ton of pace and a big left foot. Both will look to advance forward to provide support to England on the counterattack.
In net, the English turn to Joe Hart (Man City- England). He is also very good at his profession. Hart is one of the best young goaltenders in the game and is coming off an EPL title winning club season.
Key Game- Sweden (June 15th) – England will have to take 3 points from the Swedes to ensure advancement. One point will be a disappointment for them as the Swedes are their biggest competition for the 2nd spot in the pool.
Outlook- England will advance, but barely. They have less hype and expectations on them then they have had in the past and I think that works to their advantage. Can they survive without Rooney for two games? That is the question that I think they will answer by getting a result against the French and defeating Sweden. England will go through with a result on the final day against Ukraine.
Sweden- Sweden will advance if their ultra-talented striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan- Italy) shows up to play. Problem with that is his national team history is unconvincing. A quick start by “Ibra” will take a lot of pressure of his teammates and calm the Swedes down.
It all starts with Ibrahimovic. He is a physical force with pace and unbelievable ball control. He can score in any fashion and will be a handful for any defense to deal with. Ola Toivonen (PSV Eindhoven- Holland) should find space to operate with Ibrahimovic as he takes defenders with him. Ibrahimovic will need some help as defenses focus on him and Toivonen is the man to provide that assistance.
Kim Kallstrom (Lyon- France) and Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland- England) will have to be excellent in the midfield for Sweden to control the flow of the game. Kallstrom is the scoring threat from the run of play. He has a cannon of a left foot and will be counted on to give the forwards scoring support. Larsson needs to be a threat with his delivery on set pieces. If he can put the physically strong Swedes in positions to win headers in the box, the Swedes will score goals. Rasmus Elm (AZ Alkmaar- Holland) can also help provide goals from the midfield.
Defensively, Olof Mellberg (Olympiakos- Greece) will need to provide a stellar effort as he will be the field general in the back. Martin Olssen (Blackburn- England) and Mikael Lustig (Celtic- Scotland) will help on the wing both offensively and defensively as they will overlap and provide crosses on the attack and check back when necessary on defense.
Anders Isakkson (PSV Eindhoven- Holland) gives them experience in net. He is a solid keeper, but not at the level of Lloris or Hart. The Swedes cannot afford any mistakes in net during the tournament if they have any hope of advancing.
Key Game- France (June 19th) – If the Swedes can get at least one point from the French, they will have a chance to advance. Many feel England will be their most important game, but I think their result against the French could give them the boost they need to get through.
Outlook- They has a decent chance of advancing. If they beat Ukraine, they will help themselves immensely and will then have to pull a result out against England or France. Their physicality will pose problems, more so for the French then the English. The Swedes won’t have enough to get through and will go home early.
Ukraine- A host nation, the Ukrainians must hope that their veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko can find the form that made him one of the world’s most feared strikers about a decade ago. Andriy Voronin (Liverpool- England) will help him in attack and serve as a creator for the Ukrainian offense.
Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kyiv- Ukraine) and Oleg Gusev (Dynamo Kyiv- Ukraine) will be expected to provide wide play and to lob crosses into Voronin and Shevchenko while trying to give the two strikers room to operate inside the 18-yard box.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Bayern Munich- Germany) will be the critical player in the midfield as he will have to control the opponents attacking play. He is more than capable of this as his vast experience and technical skill will allow him to be Ukraine’s stabilizing force.
Ukraine’s defense is where they have many issues. They continuously made changes during qualifying and nobody knows who will start game one. Taras Mikhalik (Dynamo Kyiv- Ukraine) and Yevhen Kacheridi (Dynamo Kyiv- Ukraine) will have the experience playing together to hold that back line in place as well as they can.
In net, Ukraine should go with Andrei Pyatov (Shakthar Donestk- Ukraine). Pyatov is the best of the three goaltenders on the roster and has experience playing at a high level in the Champions League.
Key Game- England (June 19th) – If the Ukrainians can share points with Sweden, then their advancement will depend on a result with England. They match up better with England then they do with France and that is why I feel they will have a better chance to pull a result out of this game.
Outlook- The Ukrainians will need a lot of luck. But, home teams have shown a propensity to surprise at the Euros. I don’t see it from the Ukrainians unless Shevchenko rediscovers his form and Pyatov plays out of his mind. Instead, the will be watching the rest of the tournament after pool play ends.
About the Author
Written by Michael Jenkins
I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Graduated from THE University of Arizona. I now reside part time in San Francisco, CA. I am a diehard Phoenix Coyotes fan (season ticket holder since Day 1) and a diehard Chelsea FC fan. I am passionate, energetic and highly grateful to get the opportunity to work in this business again.