Monday, 11 June 2012

EURO 2012: Group D Review

A Ukrainian fairy tale see's the co-hosts top Group D

Match day 1: By Aaron Leggott

The fourth day of Euro 2012 saw possibly the biggest shock of the tournament so far, as co-hosts Ukraine saw their idol Andriy Shevchenko strike twice to create a night to remember in Kyiv.

Shevchenko creates a fairy tale ending for the Ukrainians
Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe
Sweden, who boast a squad of fine talent, including AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, were the clear favourites but were unable to deliver as Ukraine used home advantage to deliver a spectacular win.

Ibrahimovic is the one who pulls the strings in the Swedish side, and he was the one to create a first real chance in the game, as a fine cross from Seb Larsson exploited the Ukrainian defence, picking out an unmarked Ibrahimovic. Unfortunately for the Swede faithful, his header bounced off the post and went wide.

It was a very much end to end game, but some moments of madness just before the hour mark saw the tables fluctuate over a ten minute period.

It was Sweden who took advantage first, as another cross from Larsson exploited the Ukrainian defence, as Andriy Yarmolenko failed to clear the ball properly. The ball fell to Kim Kallstrom, whose pass across goal was tapped in by Ibrahimovic.

However, their lead wasn't to last long as the veteran Shevchenko stepped up to level things at the Olympic Stadium. Yarmolenko made up for his earlier mistake as some neat work on the right led to a nice cross, which Shevchenko met beautifully.

This saw a change in the balance of play, and it was all Ukraine. A corner was whipped in by Olev Gusev, and Shevchenko used his deadly prowess to get ahead of Ibrahimovic to head home.

Ukraine held on despite some late Swedish pressure, and secured a historic win in their own back yard.

In the earlier kick off, the game was unlike any other for England in recent major tournaments. The nation's expectation was low, and as was the calibre of talent picked by new boss Roy Hodgson.

With Steven Gerrard now captaining the side, the majority of Europe were fully expecting a strong French attacking line to punish England, but it wasn't to be as a valiant performance from the Three Lions secured a point, stretched their winless streak to eight in opening tournament games.

England started off the game really well, keeping the ball with ease and not looking overwhelmed by the likes of Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Frank Ribery, but France were the ones dominating possession in the early stages, with Nasri creating the first real chance of the game as his 25 yard shot just flew past Joe Hart's post.

England were using their pace going forward well, continuously playing on the break, and it nearly paid off in the 15th minute, as Ashley Young released James Milner through on goal, who rounded keeper Hugo Lloris but somehow dragged his shot wide, when it seemed easier to score.

An organised back line, with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Young bombing forward seemed encouraging for England, and the persistence paid off on the half hour mark as Joleon Lescott grabbed his first ever goal for England.

A pointless foul by Patrice Evra led to Gerrard's whipping ball meeting Lescott's head, who was unmarked just yards out. Lloris had no chance, and there was delight in the stands.

Nasri silences the crowd
Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images Europe
Just five minutes later, France nearly had a chance to peg England back, as Nasri's cross was pinged onto Alou Diarra's head, as his superb header was saved by Joe Hart, proving why he deserves the Number one shirt, even if the current kit design is a bit... over the top. The save was heading for a corner, but Ribery kept the ball alive, crossing the ball back into the box, but Diarra was unable to take advantage as he headed wide.

France's domination was increasing by the minute, and in the 39th minute, Nasri's effort on the edge of the box flew past Hart, giving him no chance as he leveled the score line.

Perhaps Lescott's goal was a bad sign for England, as it seemed to push the back line even deeper, and because of this chances were very few and far between in the second half.

There were long range efforts from Benzema and Cabaye which tested Hart, and a shot from Ribery which also tested Manchester City's keeper from a tight angle, but they were all comfortably dealt with, as the game petered out into a draw.

A draw was a fair result, but England really need to improve if we are to progress far in the competition, as we face Sweden on Friday night.

England complete superb comeback as Sweden crash out

Match day 2: By Aaron Leggott

An inspirational performance by substitute Theo Walcott ensured England grabbed a vital win in their second game of the European Championships 2012.

Theo Walcott scores England's second goal of the game
Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe

Walcott, who came on for James Milner after falling behind, provided a cameo performance of what we can expect from him in future, as he provided a goal and assist to beat Sweden.

The first game of the day was filled with drama as early as the 5th minute, as referee Bjorn Kuipers suspended the game for 55 minutes due to torrential rainfall, thunder and lightning.

After finally getting play underway, France went into this fixture hoping to make it eight games unbeaten against Ukraine, nearly making the perfect start after 17 minutes, as Jeremy Menez found the net. However, he was correctly ruled offside and Ukraine were very fortunate.

The first half was very much a drab affair, with very few chances from either side. Ukraine looked vulnerable defensively like on Monday night, and nearly gifted the French a goal as the ball was passed towards Franck Ribery, whose cross met Menez on the edge of the box. With only Andriy Pyatov to beat, Menez hit the ball straight at Pyatov and the chance was wasted.

Pyatov once again came to the rescue as a powerful header from Philippe Mexes was diverted away from goal by the keeper, from a floating Samir Nasri free kick.

Ukraine's best chance of the half came from hero Andriy Shevchenko, as he turned Mathieu Debuchy before unleashing a pile driver. Unfortunately for the co-hosts, the ball flew just over the bar.
Yohan Cabaye celebrates scoring France's second
Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images Europe

However, France soon took advantage of their dominance and took the lead through Menez in the 53rd minute. A neat ball from Karim Benzema found Menez, who cut inside before beating Pyatov at his near post.

Just three minutes later, France doubled their advantage and left Ukraine with a mountain to climb as Benzema turned his marker before unleashing a slick through ball towards Yohan Cabaye in the penalty area, who was able to blast the ball past Pyatov.

Despite the best efforts of Ukraine, they were unable to threaten Hugo Lloris' goal and it left them with a huge task on hand to beat England in order to beat the odds and qualify from Group D.

England knew that only a win would suffice against Sweden if they had any hopes of topping the group ahead of France and Ukraine, and things got off to a good start for Roy Hodgson's men.

The first real effort of the game came through an unlikely source, as Scott Parker unleashed a ferocious effort from 25 yards out, only for Andreas Isaksson to palm the ball away.

Chances were few and far between after though, as the game mirrored a very typical English game, with both sides cancelling each other out every time they ventured forward.

However, England exploited what seemed to be the Swede's downfall just after 20 minutes, as a great piece of play saw Liverpool team mates Steven Gerrard and Andy Carroll link up to give England the lead. A deep ball into the box from Gerrard was met by Carroll, who powered a header into the bottom corner, giving Isaksson no chance in the Swede goal.

Like in the first game, there were no other real chances in the first half, and the quality of football on show was pretty poor. Despite the increasing influence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden looked short of ideas, and coach Erik Hamren had a lot to do to change things around.

But whatever Hamren said at half time, it most certainly worked. Just three minutes into the second half, Sweden made their pressure count as a free kick from Ibrahimovic was deflected onto the wall, only for the Milan star striker to volley the ball into unmarked Olof Mellberg, whose shot was well saved by Joe Hart. However, a deflection off the back of Glen Johnson led the ball to trickle into the back of the net and Sweden were level.

And things were just about to get worse for England, as Mellberg gave Sweden the lead with a powerful header. Another needless free kick was taken by Seb Larsson, whose delivery met once again unmarked Mellberg, who had the simple task of putting the ball past Hart.

They were Mellberg's first goals for his country in three years, and it seemed that England's plan to win the aerial battle was being undone.

Sweden's lead was not to last long though, as super sub Theo Walcott leveled the score once again. Sweden cleared from a corner but the ball fell to Walcott on the edge of the box, and his effort dipped over Isaksson into the goal. After a great save just seconds earlier, Isaksson made a meal of Walcott's effort, as he flapped at trying to save it.

An effort from Ibrahimovic was well saved by Hart, before England went up to the other end to complete the comeback, as Walcott was once again involved. An inspirational substitution by Hodgson, the Arsenal winger dashed past the Swedish defence, before crossing for Welbeck. The Manchester United man finished the move off with a clever finish, as he backheeled the ball into the goal, sending the crowd into raptures.

England used the pace of Walcott to counter with Sweden needing a goal to keep their Euro hopes alive, and Gerrard nearly topped off the performance, but his effort was well saved by Isaksson.

England now face Ukraine on Tuesday knowing a draw will secure another quarter final in a major tournament.

England avoid Spain thanks to win against Ukraine

Match day 3: By Aaron Leggott

The final day of the group stages in Euro 2012 saw England progress as group winners thanks to a solid performance in Donetsk against the co-hosts. 

Goals from Wayne Rooney in Donetsk as well as finishes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Seb Larsson in Kiev ensured France were not to trouble for the top spot.

Unexpectedly, it was the two underdogs, Sweden and Ukraine who started off brighter in their respective games, passing the ball well and causing headaches for the French and English defences.

In Kiev, both Ola Toivonen and Seb Larsson had headers which flashed across Hugo Lloris' goal, but the best chance fell to Toivonen after a long ball caused problems for Phillipe Mexes, before Toivonen rounded the keeper and hit the outside of the post.

Like the Swedes, Ukraine were very bright in the opening stages, and England really only had one spell of possession. Brave blocks from the likes of John Terry and Scott Parker ensured Joe Hart didn't have much to deal with in the early stages, but it was still a worrying sign for Roy Hodgson.

But it was England who had the best chance of the half in Donetsk, as Ashley Young whipped in a delicious ball to the far post, but Rooney's header was way off target, and England went into the break without a shot on target for the first time since 1980.

Despite England's last game in Group D, where we conceded early, it was the other way round this time as a tap in from Rooney put us one step closer to qualification for the quarter finals.

An in-swinging corner from Steven Gerrard was cleared back to the captain, but his second delivery was much better, as he forced Andriy Pyatov into making a complete mess of the situation, and Rooney was given the simplest of tasks as he headed in from a yard.

Over in Kiev, France were looking very lacklustre, and despite a curling effort from Karim Benzema, it was Sweden who sensed an opportunity, as they broke to the other end and boosted England's chances of avoiding Spain in the last eight.

A cross on the right by Larsson found AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored a quite unbelievable effort from 16 yards, proving some of his doubters wrong with an acrobatic volley, and was easily one of the goals of the tournament so far.

The goal seemed to spur the Swedes on, as Olof Mellberg nearly grabbed his third goal of the tournament, whilst England were in much better control of the game at the Donbass Arena.

But a few moments of madness and controversy on the hour mark nearly jeopardised England's lead. First off it was Artem Milevskiy, who somehow managed to head the ball over from three yards, despite being unmarked from a corner.

And then came the moment which will be undoubtedly discuss during the rest of the tournament, as England seemed to get some payback after Ukraine were disallowed what seemed to be a perfectly fine goal, as the ball went over the line.

Marko Devic, who was relatively quiet throughout the night, managed to wriggle past his marker before unleashing a shot on target. Joe Hart got a hand to it, but as it was trickling into the net, John Terry made a heroic effort to clear the ball off the line, despite replays showing afterwards that the ball indeed went over the line.

It is moments like these that you have to question the role of the extra officials behind the goal, who are meant to be looking for things like this, and it arguably strengthens the need for goal line technology, despite UEFA's reluctance to do so.

The decision seemed to dishearten the co-hosts, and they nearly conceded again, but goal keeper Pyatov denied Ashley Cole his first ever goal for England with a fine save.

Hart was called into action again though, as a dipping effort from Yevhen Konoplyanka troubled Manchester City's number one but his fine save was then duly cleared by club team mate Joleon Lescott.

In the other game, Sweden were still ahead, and France were slowly being forced into long range efforts in an attempt to get back into the game, knowing that they needed two goals if they were to avoid the world champions.

And they nearly got the breakthrough, as Arsenal's new signing Olivier Giroud was given yards of space, but his header went horribly wide, and he didn't live up to be a 'super sub' with his first touch.

In Donetsk, Ukraine were looking desolate, and they seemed to give up on a miraculous comeback, and it seemed to be the same case for the French, as a Seb Larsson goal ended any hope of them facing Italy in the next round.

After pushing men forward, Sweden hit them on the break brilliantly, and a cross into the box was firstly met by Christian Wilhelmsson, whose tame effort deflected off the crossbar and into the path of Larsson, who had the simple task of blasting the ball into the roof of the net, and he finally secured some joy for the Swedes at this tournament. 

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(c) The Sky Blue View 2012

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