Euro 2012 preview: England

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: England

Roy Hodgson was the right choice as England coach – at least in the short-term – but realistically, you can’t expect a side to play good football when their coach is appointed a month before the tournament.

Besides, even without considering the managerial situation or England’s terrible record of injuries in the last couple of weeks, England have their weakest set of players for many years. The alleged ‘golden generation’ (though this phrase has been used more frequently in a sarcastic tone than in praise of the players) are now slightly over the hill – Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are all still doing a good job for their clubs, but their peak was a few years ago, and they never combined to great success then. There is a decent young generation coming through, but for various reasons they haven’t established themselves in the side yet.

Hodgson is left with an uninspiring squad that isn’t really one thing nor the other – it’s not blessed with great technical quality, nor does it have the feel of a settled, organised squad who will be defensively disciplined. Some of Hodgson’s decisions have been questionable – the biggest one might have been taken by the FA, rather than him – but he doesn’t have much to work with. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Sweden

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Sweden

For the first time since World Cup 1994, Sweden are at a major international tournament without Lars Lagerback. Now in charge of Iceland, Lagerback was at the helm for so long (first as a joint-coach with Tommy Soderberg, then in sole charge) that his footballing style -organised, defensive – became merged with Sweden’s footballing style, to the point where it was difficult to tell the difference between the two, at least to an outsider.

But think back to 1994, and Sweden were an attack-minded side – in fact, they were the highest scorers at that tournament, with 15 goals. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a complete shock that Sweden are now playing expansive, attacking football under new coach Erik Hamren.

After Sweden became bored of Lagerback’s cautious approach (although it took non-qualification for the 2010 World Cup to seal his departure) they were always likely to become a more open side as a reaction. Along with Germany and Holland, they were one of only three sides to score 30 goals in qualifying. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Croatia

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Croatia

Of the 16 teams in this competition, Croatia are one of the hardest to define. They seem trapped between a few different ways of playing, and don’t have a specific footballing identity

They are clearly not as good as the excellent side of 2008, despite retaining a few of the key players, and a hint of the same formation and style. The loss of Niko Kovac, the excellent holding midfielder, has never really been compensated for, and while their current defensive midfielder Tomislav Dujmovic is hard-working, he lacks the positional intelligence of Kovac.

When that is combined with a centre-back duo that badly lacks pace, Croatia are forced into a much more conservative style than four years ago. Slaven Bilic’s reputation has fallen sharply in that time, but he still has a chance to go out on a high before joining Lokomotiv. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Spain

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Spain

Spain didn’t win World Cup 2010 through pure tiki-taka. They won because they mixed tiki-taka with different options that brought more directness and urgency to their play.

When they went with pure tiki-taka, they stumbled. The defeat to Switzerland in their opening game of the World Cup was a huge shock, but while the Swiss deserved credit for the way they defended, the real story was how painfully predictable Spain were in their build-up play. With Andres Iniesta on one flank and David Silva on the other, and both coming inside into the same area of the pitch, Spain often occupied a width of around ten metres with their attacking trio. With Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets all sitting behind the ball, Spain never looked like offering enough variation to make the breakthrough, and they lost 1-0. Read more »