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