This year’s co-hosts go into the tournament with the same man that dragged them to the quarter finals in the 2006 World Cup, Oleg Blokhin. With allegations of political corruption flying every which way in the country at the moment along with the documentaries about neo-nazi supporters the Ukraine fans will be desperately hoping that the football can do the talking as of 7.45 this evening but with Shevchenko leading the line it remains doubtful that they will have anything to celebrate.
Andriy Yarmolenko seems to be the one ray of light in the dark midst of eastern Europe. Russian born, the winger/striker has an impressive record this season for Dynamo Kiev with 12 goals in 20 league appearances. Rumoured to be partnering ‘Sheva’ this evening could make him one to watch for the neutrals not drunk out of celebration/sorrow after the England France game.
A team that just scraped in as best runners up in the qualifying stage thanks to a great 3-2 win over already qualified Holland and did so without star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They have some good quality players that many in England forget about because of the one man ego that is ‘Ibra’; Johan Elmander, Olof Mellberg, Jonas Olsson, Anders Svensson, Sebastien Larsson and Ola Toivonen are all players that shouldn’t be underestimated.
In the past this has always been a bogey team for England but after November’s friendly win, which we did with surprising conviction, it seems they will pose less a threat in that context but certainly not a team to be talked of lightly.
Rasmus Elm is AZ Alkmar’s star player and has been scouted by Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. The small and dainty swede has a fine array of passing as any Alkmar fan would tell you and has been described by former Sweden coach Lars Lagerback as “the biggest talent Sweden has produced since Zlatan Ibrahimovic”.
All eyes will be on the big man up front but the clever teams will do well to close down the small and nifty producer of passes.
Unbeaten in 21 games under Laurent Blanc, the days of Les Bleus walkout and strikes that plagued the last campaign in South Africa seem long gone. A new young team has made this all possible with such talents emerging as the much talked about Yann M’Villa, Mathieu Debuchy, Yohan Cabaye and Karim Benzema finally coming of age.
It looks like M’Villa will miss the opening match against England but the man to watch out for will be Madrid striker Karim Benzema. The only problem could be in the centre of defence as an unlikely decision has been made, Phillipe Mexes has been described as over weight by many in the press but Blanc has assured the French public that it is all muscle but one man who can test that theory for sure is Andy Carroll.
The favourites to qualify from the group but it will probably come down to the first game in group D.
Olivier Giroud has had a wonderful season in Ligue 1 with 21 goals and 9 assists in 36 games helping Montpellier to their first ever title. The squad seems to be preparing for an inevitbale break up that Lille suffered last season after winning the title, so Giroud will be wanting to flaunt his skills to anyone in Spain, England or Germany to get a bumper pay day and a higher level of football, no disrespect to Montpellier. He will be one to watch as an impact player for France.
What is there to say about the three lions? So far we have had racial allegations threatening to break up the squad, one of the most underwhelming squad announcements in recent history and the endless no pressure-pressure as Alan Shearer keeps telling us “With no pressure on them we might just win it”. The one thing to take from all this is we have a manager who has a plan and knows our limitations.
It seems the public have finally realised we are not one of the great forces in international football anymore and we will do well to get out of our group. The two freindlies have gone well for Hodgson with 1-0 wins in both and although nothing to get giddy about going forward we have look very difficult to break down at the back with Joe Hart one of the reasons for this.
As long as we don’t expect much this will be a good tournament for England but exit at the group stage and prepare for a media witch hunt like no other.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the name on everyone’s lips and appears to be starting against France tonight. He is fast, confident and has a great eye for goal. Not many teams in Europe know about him so can really be the geniune surprise package. Of course at only 18 the stage could get to him but we have only one way to find out.
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