Euro 2012 is around the corner, with 16 national teams heading to bases in Poland and Ukraine ready for the big kick on Friday. And while we’re firmly Manchester United focused here at Rant, we’ll be covering the tournament in full: current and former Reds on show, with luck some outstanding football, and a big old trophy to be won! Spain defend the tournament won in Austria and Switzerland – Fernando Torres scoring the only goal of the game as La Roja beat Germany in the Vienna final. Indeed, Spain remain the bookies favourites four years on, although Germany, Holland, Italy and France will each harbour some hope. England – not so much.
In Rant’s team-by-team preview we assess each side’s chances, pick out the key players and recall some favourite moments.
Group D – England, France, Sweden, Ukraine
After a commendable qualifying campaign in which England finished first in Group G, six points ahead of closest rivals Montenegro, scoring 17 goals in the process, write England off at your peril! With less pressure on the team than in recent international competitions, and on the back of recent victories against Spain, Sweden, Norway and Belgium, could Roy Hodgson’s England launch an attack on the coveted Henri Delaunay trophy?
Last five Matches: (W) Belgium 1-0, (W) Norway 1-0, (L) Netherlands 3-2, (W) Sweden 1-0, (W) Spain 1-0
Fifa World Ranking: 6
Nickname: Three Lions
Manager: Roy Hodgson – with 18 previous coaching jobs on his CV, the 64-year-old brings a wealth of experience to an England team that lacked togetherness much under Italian coach Fabio Capello. Never before has Hodgson managed a country as much in the spotlight as England, but to his credit, taking Switzerland to the knockout stages in 1994 was no mean feat. However, Hodgson was not all fans first-choice for the role, and needs a solid performance in Poland and Ukraine to silence the many doubters who wanted Tottenham Hotspur coach Harry Redknapp to take the reins. This is Roy’s biggest task yet, and he will need to call upon that vast wealth of experience if England is to progress.
- Joe Hart, Manchester City, goalkeeper – so many times has England been let down by goalkeeping errors that Hart’s rise through the ranks is a breath of fresh air. Exceptional performances in Manchester City’s title-winning team have ensured Hart is first name on the team-sheet. A ‘keeper with fantastic shot stopping ability, and an exceptionally cool head for his age
- Steven Gerrard (c), Liverpool, midfielder – experienced and level-headed, Gerrard is a player most supporters would include in the England team. Radar-like passing precision and an eye for goal, Gerrard remains the key man in England’s midfield although there are question marks over the player’s fitness
- Wayne Rooney, Manchester United, forward – no mention of ‘key men’ can be made without including ‘Wazza’ despite the striker being ruled out for England’s first two games due to suspension. The United striker is vital if England is the progress in the tournament, with Rooney’s genius on and off the ball set for the big stage after a few week’s rest.
United Interest: United youngster Danny Welbeck is set to lead the line for England. After a promising full season at Old Trafford, in which Welbeck bagged nine goals, the striker scored a ‘Messi-like’ chip against Belgium in a recent friendly to leave the forward full of confidence and ready to test himself against Europe’s best.
Random Fact: Stewart Downing’s father, also called Stewart, predicted his son would create 20 Andy Carroll goals in the past season. In reality, Downing to Carroll assists totalled zero. Downing to anybody assists also totalled zero for that matter!
Defining Euro moment: the penalty misses against arch rivals Germany in the semi-final at Euro 96 cost England a place in the Wembley final.
The Swedes have made four appearances at the Euros – in 1992 as hosts, followed by 2000, 2004 and 2008, with a best placed finish being the semi-finals, knocking out Graham Taylor’s England on the way, 20 years ago. Sweden had a successful qualifying campaign, winning eight out of 10 games, and beating Netherlands to end the Dutch 17 game unbeaten streak. It proved to be a vital win, ensuring Sweden gained automatic qualification as the ‘best loser’, dodging the play-offs. Rank outsiders perhaps, but Sweden has the ability to pull off surprise this summer with a team that is very hard to break down. Only four of the 23 players in the squad have less than 10 caps.
Last five matches: (W) Bahrain 2-0 | (W) Qatar U23 5-0 | (W) Croatia 3-1 |(W) Iceland 3-2 | (W) Serbia 2-1
FIFA Ranking: 17
Nickname: Blågult (The Blue-Yellow)
Manager: Erik Hamren – took over after nine-year veteran Lars Lagerback resigned following Sweden’s disastrous 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Hugely experienced Scandinavian manager has won three Swedish cups, a Danish cup and back-to-back Norwegian Premier League titles. Sweden has been handed a tricky group, but Hamren’s style of play will prove hard for England, Ukraine and France to break down.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic (c), Milan, forward – serial “honestly he’s really good” player will once again be out to prove his own hype! Ibra is now Sweden’s captain, and bagged a respectable five goals in qualifying. Frequently rumours of him move to United have never materialised
- Sebastian Larsson, Sunderland, midfielder – former Arsenal and Birmingham City winger, who has now seemingly found his groove at Sunderland. Can be driving force on the wing, with a killer dead-ball delivery. Once described by Arsene Wenger as “probably the best free kick taker in the league”
- Rasmus Elm, AZ Alkmaar, midfielder – labelled the biggest talent Sweden has produced since Ibrahimovic, Elm is a massive threat from midfield, with accuracy in the pass and quality from free-kicks. One of Europe’s hottest commodities this summer, with United, Liverpool and Spurs all reportedly sniffing around the AK player.
United interest: United has a brief history with Swedish players, including treble-winner Jesper Blomqvist and temporary striker Henrik Larsson.
Random Fact: Sweden’s assistant manager is former Aston Villa striker Marcus Allback.
Defining Euro moment: Tomas Brolin’s 82nd minute goal against England at Euro 92 sent the hosts sailing into the semi-final and ditched England out the group, dead last.
Ukraine has only been a national side in its own right for 20 years, having played its first international match on 29 April 29 1992 against Hungary. Euro 2012 will be the second time Ukraine has competed in a major tournament – Zhovto-Blakytni’s debut was in the World Cup 2006, where Ukraine reached the quarter-final.
Last five matches: (D) Germany 3-3 | (W) Austria 2-0 | (W) Israel 3-2 | (W) Estonia 4-0 | (L) Austria 3-2 | (W) Turkey 2-0
FIFA Ranking: 52
Nickname: Zbirna or Sbirna, (National Team)
Manager: Oleh Volodymyrovych “Oleg” Blokhin – formerly a standout striker for Dynamo Kyiv and the Soviet national team, being named European Footballer of the Year in 1975 he was named European Footballer of the Year to win the Ballon d’Or. He was the second Soviet, and the first Ukrainian player to achieve the feat.
- Andriy Shevchenko, Dynamo Kyiv, forward – ex Chelsea striker was one of Roman Abramovich’s original investments, although Shevchenko’s career never really took off in England. Despite this Shevchenko can boast a very successful time in Italy with AC Milan, including winning the Champions League
- Andriy Voronin, Dynamo Moscow, forward – a true superstar with Liverpool, where he sported a fantastic pony tail, and wore number 10! Well, he might have scored in a pre-season friendly of two! Far greater success has come in the Bundesliga for Mainz, Koln and Leverkusen
- Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Bayern Munich, midfielder – a major part of Bayern’s run to the Champions League final this year, and a hard-working player in the engine-room. If Ukraine is to progress this summer, Tymoshchuk is key.
United interest: Andrei Kanchelskis was a vital part of United’s success in the 1990s, when Sir Alex Ferguson often deployed two flying wingers. Kanchelskis never represented the country of his birth though, instead playing for Russia when the USSR split. Scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition of United’s arch neighbours, Manchester City.
Random fact: 21 of 23 playing squad members play in the Ukrainian league.
Defining Euro moment: Securing the rights to Euro 2012 – it will be the nation’s debut in the tournament!
Words by Thomas Willoughby, whom can be found on Twitter!
Two-time European Championship winners in 1984 and 2000, France had a decent qualifying campaign, winning six of 10 matches, and only losing once to Belarus. France finished top of the qualification group by a solitary point, and join England, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine in the tournament proper. France has seen a major footballing revolution under Laurent Blanc, casting out Raymond Domanech’s odd ‘methods’ to focus on player form rather than star signs! France is on a 23-game unbeaten run, beating Germany on the way.
Last five matches: (W) Estonia 4-0 | (W) Serbia 2-0 | (W) Iceland 3-2 | (W) Germany 2-1 | (D) Belgium 0-0
FIFA Ranking: 16
Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)
Manager: Laurent Blanc – took over after the travesty of 2010. And Blanc deserves huge praise for the drastic improvement seen in the French national side in the past two years. A former United centre-back, French captain, and Ligue 1 winner with Bordeaux as manager, Blanc can draw upon vast experience to motivate his squad. Blanc’s side plays attractive attacking football, while remaining difficult to break down at the back. Potential successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford?
- Hugo Lloris (c), Olympique Lyonnais, goalkeeper – French captain at just 25, with more than a decade ahead of him in the game. Proven in the Champions League with Lyon, and often considered one of the world’s best ‘keepers in the world. Worth a punt for the Golden Glove
- Samir Nasri, Manchester City, midfielder – a key component in City’s Premier League title last season. Nasri is on the verge of becoming the complete attacking midfielder – can score, create, with decent pace. Nasri is a fantastic tournament away from being one of the best. If only he’d chosen United…
- Karim Benzema, Real Madrid, forward – another ‘one that got away’, Benzema had a slow start to his Madrid career, yet has turned it around in the last season, netting 67 goals in 133 appearances overall for Los Merengues. Powerful and deadly in the 18-yard-box – could score a a hatful of goals.
United interest: Patrice Evra captained United for much of last season. The speedy left-back has suffered a very patchy time with France though after being fingered for a key role in the ‘revolts’ of 2010. Suffered a five-match international ban, but back in the squad and set to start the tournament. Could play a key role if France goes far in the competition.
Random Fact: France haven’t progressed from the group stage of a major tournament since making the World Cup final in 2006.
Defining Euro Moment: Sylvain Wiltord’s last-gasp equalizer against Italy in Euro 2000. Trezeguet would score a golden goal in extra time, but, in truth, France had it won with the equalizer.