Euro 2012 Group D: England's opponents
Monday 04 June 2012
France: Fifa ranking 16
Amanager can make a big difference. Two years ago France suffered one of the worst disgraces of their sporting history as the squad at the World Cup in South Africa mutinied against Raymond Domenech and, as in 2002, went home with just one point.
But under the management of Laurent Blanc the rancour has been left behind. France are unbeaten in 20 games, and go into this tournament with more unity and confidence than they have had for years.
Much of it owes to Blanc: there was strikingly little respect for Domenech, but it is difficult not to admire a member of the 1998 World Cup-winning side, who also won the title as coach of Bordeaux. Blanc has picked players discarded by Domenech, building around that exceptional generation of players born in 1987, heralded ever since they won the European Under-17 Championship in 2004.
Of them, Karim Benzema is now the attack leader, and probably the world's best old-fashioned centre-forward. Behind him, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa have both had arguably their best seasons yet, while Jeremy Menez, a rival to Ben Arfa for a place on the right-wing, has done well at Paris St-Germain.
There is experience, too: Patrice Evra and Franck Ribéry have been forgiven for the 2010 revolution, while Philippe Mexès should provide a steady foundation at centre-back. They were good rather than very good in qualifying, but they undoubtedly have the talent to win Group D by a distance and then go deep into the later stages.
Manager: Laurent Blanc The veteran defender has brought the same class and calm to management as he did to his great playing career.
Tournament odds 10-1.
1. Hugo Lloris Goalkeeper (Lyons)
2. Mathieu Debuchy Defender (Lille)
3. Patrice Evra Defender (Manchester United)
4. Adil Rami Defender (Valencia)
5. Philippe Mexès Defender (Milan)
6. Yohan Cabaye Midfielder (Newcastle United)
7. Franck Ribéry Midfielder (Bayern Munich)
8. Mathieu Valbuena Striker (Marseilles)
9. Olivier Giroud Striker (Montpellier)
10. Karim Benzema Striker (Real Madrid)
11. Samir Nasri Midfielder (Manchester City)
12. Blaise Matuidi Midfielder (Paris Saint-Germain)
13. Anthony Réveillère Defender (Lyons)
14. Jérémy Menez Striker (Paris Saint-Germain)
15. Florent Malouda Midfielder (Chelsea)
16. Steve Mandanda Goalkeeper (Marseilles)
17. Yann M'Vila Midfielder (Rennes)
18. Alou Diarra Midfielder (Marseilles)
19. Marvin Martin Midfielder (Sochaux)
20. Hatem Ben Arfa Midfielder (Newcastle United)
21. Laurent Koscielny Defender (Arsenal)
22. Gaël Clichy Defender (Marseilles)
23. Cédric Carrasso Goalkeeper (Bordeaux)
Euros record: Qualified Eight times. Best Winners (twice).
Ukraine Fifa ranking 50
Oleg Blokhin has been a football icon in Ukraine for years. He is one of the best players the country has produced, winning the Ballon d'Or in 1975 before dragging Ukraine to the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup. His status should be unimprovable, but a repeat this year, on home soil, would do it.
Blokhin was called for after the departures of three other managers in the last two years. With no qualification process there has been little purpose or direction to the Ukraine side, and it was not until a 3-3 draw in a friendly with Germany last November that there appeared any positive plan of how Ukraine were meant to play.
Their strengths lie in attack. The headline name, of course, is Andrei Shevchenko (below), Blokhin's rival as Ukraine's greatest player and still going strong in his second spell at Dynamo Kiev. It is not just grizzled experience, though, even with the slightly less old but certainly less legendary Andrei Voronin in the squad.
There are two notable 22-year-olds: first Andrei Yarmolenko, a powerful left-sided forward, learning from Shevchenko at Kiev. Then there is the thrilling little winger Yevhen Konoplyanka.
This Ukraine team, roared on by a partisan crowd at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, should have no problem scoring. Keeping them out might be harder. Their goalkeeper, Andrei Dikan, is injured while senior centre-back Dmytro Chygrynskiy has also struggled. The replacements lack quality and organisation. In a group containing Wayne Rooney, Karim Benzema and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it might cost them.
Manager: Oleg Blokhin A legendary old centre-forward for Dynamo Kiev and the USSR through the 1970s and 80s, now in his second spell as Ukraine manager.
Tournament odds 50-1.
1. Maksym Koval Goalkeeper (Dynamo Kiev)
2. Yevhen Selin Defender (Vorskla Poltava)
3. Yevhen Khacheridi Defender (Dynamo Kiev)
4. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk Midfielder (Bayern M)
5. Oleksandr Kucher Defender (Sh'ktar Donetsk)
6. Denys Harmash Midfielder (Dynamo Kiev)
7. Andrei Shevchenko Striker (Dynamo Kiev)
8. Oleksandr Aliyev Midfielder (Dynamo Kiev)
9. Oleh Husyev Midfielder (Dynamo Kiev)
10. Andrei Voronin Striker (Dynamo Moscow)
11. Andrei Yarmolenko Striker (Dynamo Kiev)
12. Andrei Pyatov Goalkeeper (Sh'ktar Donetsk)
13. Vyacheslav Shevchuk Defender (S Donetsk)
14. Ruslan Rotan Midfielder (Dnipro D'petrovsk)
15. Artem Milevskiy Striker (Dynamo Kiev)
16. Yevhen Seleznyov Striker (Shakhtar Donetsk)
17. Taras Mykhalyk Defender (Dynamo Kiev)
18. Sergei Nazarenko Midfielder (T'ya Simferopol)
19. Yevhen Konoplyanka Midfielder (Dnipro D'rovsk)
20. Yaroslav Rakitskiy Defender (S Donetsk)
21. Bohdan Butko Defender (Illichivets Mariupol)
22. Marko Devych Striker (Metalist Kharkiv)
23. Oleksandr Horyainov Goalkeeper (M Kharkiv)
Euros record: Qualified Once. Best n/a.
Sweden Fifa ranking 17
There is still only one man who matters in Swedish football. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the great title-winner, opinion-divider and national icon is as important as ever to the Swedish team.
Since Sweden's last major tournament, Euro 2008, Ibrahimovic has taken a break from international football, returned, been made captain, missed the crucial qualification game through suspension, and then come back in a new position designed to get the best out of him.
But with Freddie Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson having long left the scene, Ibrahimovic is the lone star in this side, a player in a different category to his team-mates. After years as the lone front man, he has recently been moved into a withdrawn role, behind the slightly blunter force of Johan Elmander up front. This was a reaction to Elmander's goals in the game against the Netherlands which sent Sweden to Euro 2012, but it should allow Ibrahimovic the time and space to start moves as well as finish them.
The switch makes sense in the context of Erik Hamren, the new manager who has replaced Lars Lagerback's pragmatic style with something more exciting. Martin Olsson can attack up and down the left flank from full-back, while Kim Kallstrom and Sebastian Larsson should provide ideas and energy from midfield. Hamren's 4-2-3-1 approach has been very popular with supporters who had grown tired with Lagerback's conservative ways.
The defence does not match up quite as well: there is no reliable partner for Olof Mellberg. But there should still be enough to prevent an Anglo-French procession into the last eight.
Manager: Erik Hamren He won cups in Sweden and titles in Denmark and Norway before reinvigorating Sweden with his attacking approach.
Tournament odds 66-1.
1. Andreas Isaksson Goalkeeper (PSV Eindhoven)
2. Mikael Lustig Defender (Celtic)
3. Olof Mellberg Defender (Olympiakos)
4. Andreas Granqvist Defender (Genoa)
5. Martin Olsson Defender (Blackburn Rovers)
6. Rasmus Elm Midfielder (AZ Alkmaar)
7. Sebastian Larsson Midfielder (Sunderland)
8. Anders Svensson Midfielder (Elfsborg)
9. Kim Kallstrom Midfielder (Lyons)
10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic Striker (Milan)
11. Johan Elmander Striker (Galatasaray)
12. Johan Wiland Goalkeeper (Copenhagen)
13. Jonas Olsson Defender (West Bromwich Albion)
14. Tobias Hysen Striker (Gothenburg)
15. Mikael Antonsson Defender (Bologna)
16. Pontus Wernbloom Midfielder (CSKA Moscow)
17. Behrang Safari Defender (Anderlecht)
18. Samuel Holmen Midfielder (Istanbul BB)
19. Emir Bajrami Midfielder (Twente)
20. Ola Toivonen Striker (PSV Eindhoven)
21. Christian Wilhelmsson Midfielder (Al-Hilal)
22. Markus Rosenberg Striker (Werder Bremen)
23. Par Hansson Goalkeeper (Helsingborg)
Euros record: Qualified Five times. Best Semi-finalists (1992).
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