With Euro 2012 starting today in Poland and Ukraine, we finish our look at the 16 teams with Group D, which features France, Sweden, co-host Ukraine and England.
There are really only two teams worth discussing in this group – France and England – so we’ll get the other two out of the way quickly.
Sweden (ranked No. 17 in the world) qualified for the finals as best runner-up, winning eight of its 10 games to finish three points behind Netherlands in its group.
As for Ukraine, they are ranked at No. 52 in the world and are only here because they are co-hosting the tournament (it’s there party so they have to be invited). It’s too bad the U.S. can’t work a deal with FIFA where, if the host country is ranked below No. 5, the Americans can take their place. Sure, we’re not part of Europe, but we are a former British colony and the experience would help the U.S. squad in the run up to the 2014 World Cup.
When last we saw France (ranked No. 14 in the world) the players were walking out on Les Bleus during a disastrous appearance in the 2010 World Cup. Former team member Patrick Vieira says that is all in the past for a team that enters Euro 2012 unbeaten in its last 21 matches.
“The problems which undermined France are all sorted now,” Vieira told The Daily Mail. “The French federation dealt with it decisively and now there is a new coach, a new philosophy, a new approach to the game – and Laurent Blanc is seeing the benefits of winning games, which breeds confidence and unity.”
Franck Ribéry – who has scored in his past three internationals – says the team shouldn’t look past the group stage, probably a good idea after the massive flameout at the 2010 World Cup.
“We all want to go as far as possible in the Euros, but the aim is to get past the group stage,” Ribéry told The Guardian. “First and foremost, we want to get to Ukraine and settle into our hotel, start training and preparing.”
Which brings us to England (ranked No. 6) who, despite only winning one major cup (the World Cup in 1966), carry unrealistic expectations into every tournament they qualify for (except maybe not this one). Think the Cleveland Browns but, instead of just having Northeast Ohio over-analyzing their every move, you had the entire nation scrutinizing them.
The Three Lions will not have goal-scorer Wayne Rooney for the first two games of group play because of a suspension, midfielder Gareth Barry is out with a torn muscle in his abdomen, midfielder Frank Lampard will miss the tournament with a thigh injury, as will Gary Cahill, who suffered a double fracture of his jaw.
In addition, Roy Hodgson has only been in charge of the team for little more than a month following the surprise resignation in February of Fabio Capello. Hodgson has international experience, having coached Switzerland, UAE and Finland, but you have to wonder if he has had enough time to figure out what works best with the current team.
That lack of time with the team may explain some of Hodgson’s more talked about choices as the former Liverpool manager six Reds on the squad: Martin Kelly, Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Glen Johnson and Gerrard. That’s all well and good except (and this one hits close to home) Liverpool finished the recent Premier League season in eighth place.
As David Hirshey points out at ESPN, there are more Liverpool players representing England than there are Borussia Dortmnund (Bundesliga champions) on the German team and Real Madrid (La Liga champions) on the Spain squad.
Hodgson did one thing right in naming Steven Gerrard as captain. While Gerrard has not had as much success with the national team as with Liverpool, he’s hinted that this could be his last turn with the national team so he should be motivated to bring his best to the pit
And after famously running wild through Germany at the 2006 World Cup, England doesn’t even have the best WAGs at Euro 2012. What, they couldn’t find a spot for Peter Crouch so Abby Clancy could come along?
Did You Know?
France’s Adil Rami was a mechanic before he became a footballer. He also posed nude for the Dieux du Stade calendar.
Game to Watch
The June 11 match between France and England.
Who Will Advance?
Even with all the troubles and questions surrounding the two teams, England and France should both advance. If one can walk out of that first match with three points, they should top the group with the other coming in second.
So that’s it. If you are a fan you know what you are in for over the next few weeks. If you’ve never watched a European tournament before, why not check it out? You just might be surprised at what you find.
(Photo by Getty Images)