Still don’t have much time, but I’m predicting:
England 2 – 1 Ukraine
Sweden 1 – 1 France
Czech Republic – Poland
Both teams are still fighting to get out of Group A and, with Russia expected to beat Greece in the other game, whoever wins will qualify in second position. The Czech’s looked much improved in their last match and could have scored more. They did however look shaky in the second half and let the Greeks back into game and can perhaps consider themselves slightly fortunate to get all 3 points. Poland on the other hand were the complete opposite, and after a poor first half, came back into the game scoring an outstanding equaliser. Kuba’s strike was one of the goals of the tournament so far.
The Czech Republic took the lead very early in their last game, scoring 2 goals within the first 6 minutes. They looked dangerous down the right flank, with Petr Jiráček and Theo Gebre Selassie both looking dangerous, but the most impressive player with Tomáš Rosickÿ. His touch was superb and his passing and vision was a constant threat, picking out runs behind the Greek’s defence. Unfortunately he was removed at half time with an injury to his Achilles tendon and faces a race to be fit in time for today’s game. If he doesn’t make it the Czechs will be without their captain and best player, and could lack any attacking threat. The Czechs only need a draw to qualify, and could play much more defensively. This is a risk as if they concede early it can be hard recover, as Ireland and Greece have showed.
A draw for Poland won’t suffice and they need a win get out of the group. They have shown a lot of inexperience so far and are still looking for their first win in a major tournament. After throwing away what was looking to be a comfortable win against Greece, then falling asleep and conceding a poor goal from a Russian set piece, Poland will need to work on their concentration and discipline if they are to advance any further. Poland coach Franciszek Smuda also has important choices to make regarding who plays tonight. Does he stick with Przemysław Tytoń who has been solid in the one and a half games he has played, or go back to original first choice Wojciech Szczęsny who was made mistakes in the game with Greece? Against Russia Maciej Rybus was dropped in favour of the more defensively minded Dariusz Dudka, but needing all three points today can he afford to the same?
Prediction: Czech Republic 0 – 2 Poland
Greece – Russia
Despite only having one point, Greece can still get out of the group but have to win against Russia if they have any chance of doing so. Russia have gained many neutral’s support with their free flowing, attacking style and are the highest top scorers in the competition. Although they only need a point to reach the knockout stages, a win would guarantee they finish top of the group and avoid playing Germany next.
Greece have been terrible so far and are yet to keep a clean sheet or score more than one goal in a game. They have played defensively in both their games, but against Russia will surely have to go for a more attacking outlook. If they sit deep Russia have the players to punch them who Poland and Czech Rep. didn’t and the scoreline could be embarrassing. Their star player, Georgios Samaras, has been largely disappointing and is yet to show his talent. Often playing a left forward role, he doesn’t track back nor does he contribute offensively often trying to dribble past several players before loosing the ball.
Russia have been an entertaining watch and their high scoring approach has gained them many plaudits. The competition’s top scorer; Alan Dzagoev, has been excellent throughout and his goals have made up for Aleksander Kerzhakov and Andrei Arshavin’s wastefulness. Out of contract in December, he will want to impress any potential suiters by continuing in this rich vein of form and proving it is not just a sporadic purple patch.
Prediction: Greece 0 – 3 Russia
Goalkeeper: Vyacheslav Malafeev
Made a few really good saves, the best coming early on in the game from a dangerous Polish set piece. He should have done enough to keep Igor Akinfeev out the team when he returns from injury.
Defence: Fábio Coentrão, Pepe, Mats Hummels & Theo Gebre Selassie
Despite conceding two goals,Pepe and Coentrão both had very good games. Pepe scored Portugal’s first goal of the tournament and was dominant at the back, making important tackles and and strong headers. Coentrão was just as good and motored down the left flank well, combining with Ronaldo nicely, and providing the assist for Varela’s let winner. Gebre Selassie did a similar job for the Czechs and both goals came from his side of the pitch. Mats Hummels could be best defender in the tournament so far and another excellent performance against Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has gained him many admirers.
Midfield: Andrés Iniesta, Bastian Schweinstieger & Jakub Błaszczykowski
Iniesta was exceptional against Ireland and, while the quality of opposition wasn’t the best, his passing and dribbling really stood out. For me Iniesta has been the player of the tournament so far. Bastian Schweinsteiger has also been great and he dominated the midfield against the Netherlands, providing two assists. Błaszczykowski tireless running was good to see but it was his goal which really stood out, cracking the ball into the corner of the goal from outside the box.
Forwards: Danny Welbeck, Mario Gomez & Fernando Torres
Welbeck worked hard throughout the game and deserved to score England’ winner late in the game. The finish was a great piece of improvisation and is one the goals of the tournament so far. Gomez and Torres both scored two well taken goals each. Torres will gain bags of confidence from his brace and could go on to be one of the stars of the tournament. Both of Gomez’s goals were wonderful finishes and he provides the attacking fulcrum to Germany’s talented midfield.
Ukraine – France
Ukraine’s comeback against Sweden was the story of the first round and proved that what the host nation lack in quality on the pitch, is made up by the strength of their support off of it. A win might prove too much today, as France are a far superior team to Sweden, but the Ukrainians should put up a good. France are a good team on paper but looked lacked the imagination and guile to unpick the sturdy England defence. Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery were both disappointing, and will need to improve greatly if they want to have successful tournaments.
Ukraine’s hero was Andriy Shevechenko, whose match winning performance gave them their first ever win in the European Championships. Doubts have been raised as to whether he is fit enough to play two games in 5 days, but if he does his movement off the ball and finishing could be a problem for a shaky French defence. If Shevchenko doesn’t make it, Ukraine have another star to turn too, in Andriy Yarmolenko. Against Sweden he played on the right side of midfield and cutting in on his left foot provided the assist for Shevchenko’s equaliser. His industrious performances have gained him many admirers, including Arsenal and Liverpool, but is expected to join AC Milan to follow in the footsteps of Shevchenko and hopefully enjoy a similar amount of success at the San Siro.
France are also expected to make changes to their side. Yann M’Vila is retuning from an ankle injury and expected to start tonight having played such an key role in France’s qualifying campaign. Who drops out is the dilemma Laraunt Blanc faces. Alou Diarra has had a dreadful season with Marsielle but when called upon, put in a dominant performance against England and was many people’s man of the match. Florent Malouda on the other hand was poor against the English and contributed very little, but could still start as should Blanc go with Diarra-M’Vila-Cabaye in midfield, it could lead to a stale game with France creating little, as all three are relatively defensive minded players.
Prediction: Ukraine 1 – 2 France
Sweden – England
England’s campaign got off to a good start on Monday, and a draw with France was a good result. Defensively solid, it took a fine Samir Nasri goal to beat Joe Hart and even then England had chances to win the game. Sweden on the other hand were disappointing against Ukraine and appear to have let the pressure get to them. There are reports of dissent within the camp and a rift that has formed between senior players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olaf Mellberg. They will need to put their differences aside though as if they are disorganised England have the players to punish them.
This is make or break game Sweden and should they lose they will follow Ireland out of the tournament after only playing 2 games. Against Ukraine, Ibrahimovic had a good game and can quite rightly be feel let down by the performances of his teammates. He scored Sweden’s only goal and created numerous chances for others to, and had Johan Elmander converted a simple chance towards the end of the game, would have earned his team a point. Often accused of going missing in big matches he will need a big game here if Sweden are to get anything, as he is the most gifted player on the pitch.
Andy Carroll is expected to start up front for England, replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberain and Ashley Young shifting onto the left. Going with two out and out strikers is a big risk by Roy Hodgson as England have looked good playing with a player ‘in the hole’. Andy Carroll does pose another threat for the Swedes to deal with though, as he is good in the air and should be able to win some long balls and provide knockdowns for Danny Welbeck to latch onto. The two central midfield zone is another problem England face. Against France Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard both looked exhausted and neither of them fully fit. Granted, the sweltering heat in Donetsk didn’t help and they were both chasing shadows for large portions of game, but their fitness could be an issue today and James Milner, Jordan Henderson and even Phil Jones must be prepared to play if called upon.
Prediction: Sweden 1 – 1 England
Italy – Croatia
Italy proved they are no pushovers in following their draw with Spain last Sunday, but will be looking for more than a solitary point to boost their hopes of getting out of the group. They looked good after taking the lead, but for a team which prides themselves on their defence, will be disappointed at conceding the equaliser so soon after. Croatia also showed their strengths and crushed a weak Ireland team. They can score goals, yet there have been questions about their quality of their defence, who were never really tested by Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle.
Italy lined up in a 3-5-2 formation against Spain and it worked well, the 3 center backs blocking shots and denying the Spainish forwards the time to to pass and dribble in the box. Danielle De Rossi particuary impressed and looked at home in his new position, tackling well and bringing the ball into midfield with some accurate passing. Whether or not Italy continue with a formation with 3 at the back remains another question and De Rossi may be moved into midfield where he is more natural. The strike partnership of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano also looked promising, creating chances for each other as well as attempting display their own skill. Were it not for some fine goalkeeping by Iker Casillas and Balotelli lingering too long on the ball, both could have scored. Italy also showed the depth they have in that area, bringing on Antonio Di Natale and Sebastian Giovinco, the former scoring the game’s opener. Both looked lively, and Cesare Prandelli has a tough choice to make, whether to stick with Cassano and Balotelli or twist and give Di Natale and Giovinco a game.
Croatia’s victory against Ireland was one of the most impressive performances of the first round and will want a win here, to avoid needing points against Spain in their final game. They showed the quality they have throughout team, with Luka Modrić and Mario Mandžukić particularly impressing, Modric dicating play and Mandzukic scroring a brace. They an in the top 10 in the world but will want to beat a more reputable team to prove they are serious about going far into knockout stages. Crucial to tonights success will be Shaktar Donetsk right back, Darijo Srna. He did well against the Irish bombing forward from deep and up against the out of position Emanuele Giaccherini he could enjoy success.
Prediction: Italy 2 – 1 Croatia
Spain – Rep. of Ireland
Spain looked decent against Italy, but never really took control of the game and showed a hunger to win. To prove doubters wrong nothing but a convincing win will do here. Ireland were more disappointing, and after being so impressive defensively in qualifying, really let themselves down against Croatia. Both teams willneed points to progress from the group and will this game promises much.
Before playing Italy there was much speculation over which striker Vincente del Bosque would choose to lead the line for them. However instead of choosing either Fernando Torres or Alvaro Negredo, he instead went for Cesć Fabregas playing a ‘false 9’ role, dropping deep and linking up with the other midfielders rather than playing up against the defenders. This was a mixed success; despite scoring the equaliser Fabregas looked unsure of his position and was anonymous for much of the game. When Torres came on Spain instantly looked more dangerous and, had he been slightly more composed in front of goal, Torres could have scored a winner. He could well start against Ireland and if he scores, should get the confidence back to terrorise defensies like he did in the previous European Championships.
As good as Croatia were last week Ireland were really poor and will need to improve today as Spain are a significantly better side. Their best chance would be to try and replicate Chelsea’s 2-2 draw against Barcelona last season, sitting deep with all men behind the ball. Giovanni Trapattoni’s selection has hinted at something similar, with reports suggesting than striker Kevin Doyle will be dropped, and and additional midfielder in Simon Cox, will instead be selected. Whether or not this can work remains to be seen, but teams playing defensive systems playing defensive systems have done well in the competition so far, as England and Denmark have proved.
Prediction: Spain 3 – 0 Rep. of Ireland