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 »

Euro 2012 preview: Italy

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Italy

In many ways, Cesare Prandelli isn’t a typical Italian coach. He’s a highly intelligent man, but one doesn’t think of him as a pure tactician like Marcello Lippi, Giovanni Trapattoni or Fabio Capello. He’s of an Arsene Wenger figure – he wants an overall, attacking philosophy rather than lots of specific tactics, and likes developing young players to suit his footballing identity.

He has attempted to move Italy towards a more positive style of play. That’s partly because it’s Prandelli’s natural style as coach, but also because Italy don’t have the secure defenders we’re accustomed to. The days of Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini have gone – Italy have good defenders, but not great ones. They’re more blessed in midfield.

Prandelli explains: “Many of the players felt that the time had come to play – I won’t say a different type of game because, in football, there is nothing new – but something else. Given that I have plenty of quality midfielders, I felt we should play to our strengths and with these players that means a much more attacking game.” Read more »