Euro 2012 preview: France

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: France

Whatever happens at this tournament, Euro 2012 will be an improvement on the sheer embarrassment of World Cup 2010 for France. The off-field problems meant it was almost impossible to determine how good a side France could have been, and therefore it’s difficult to judge how well Laurent Blanc has performed.┬áBut then, repairing the morale of the squad was key, and Blanc seems to have handled that well; his side are now on a 21-match unbeaten run.

On the field, there are still problems to solve. In his three pre-tournament qualifiers, Blanc was either indulging himself in widespread experimentation, or he was a little lost. France have a great number of good players, particularly attacking midfielders, but those players are all of a vaguely similar standard – only Franck Ribery seems undroppable – and all are highly versatile.

Blanc seems to have too many options, and while it feels like there’s a winning combination somewhere, France haven’t yet found it (although the 4-0 win over Estonia on Tuesday night was impressive). As a result, they are highly unpredictable – if it all comes together they could win the competition. If Blanc keeps changing things, it could be a disaster.
Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Ukraine

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Ukraine

It’s difficult to make a case for Ukraine performing well at this competition. They have home advantage, of course (they wouldn’t be here otherwise) but in the long-term they’ve had four coaches in four years, and in the short-term their squad has been suffering from food poisoning, which has hampered pre-tournament preparations.

Oleg Blokhin is an experienced coach and was in charge of Ukraine for their previous international tournament, World Cup 2006. He’s something of an old-school coach who stresses the need for “players who are prepared to fight for their country”, and has a strict rule that “a candidate for the national side must be a first-choice player at his club.” They are hardly unreasonable demands, but Ukraine neither possesses any superstars nor a particularly deep squad, so hecan hardly afford to be picky. An injury to Dmytro Chygrynskiy, perhaps their best player, hasn’t helped. Read more »

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 »