Defensive England, Fancy French Football and a Ukranian fairytale – Analysis of Day 4 at Euro 2012Posted: June 11, 2012
Today’s action saw the two Group favourites, England and France, face each other in what had the potential to be a thrilling encounter while co-hosts Ukraine began their tournament against Sweden.
France enjoyed a lot more of the attacking play in the game, but it was England who took the lead on the half hour mark when Joleon Lescott met a beautifully delivered free from captain Steven Gerrard with his head. It didn’t take too long for the French to respond however as Samir Nasri received the ball from Franck Ribery and after taking a touch, was able to just squeeze a long range shot past Joe Hart into the bottom left corner in the 39th minute.
As the second half began, one would have felt that this game would see another couple of goals, but unfortunately that wasn’t too be the case as England decided to go defensive and rarely leave their own half, a tactic very often used by Roy Hodgson. France relentlessly attacked the England goal, having a total of 21 shots and enjoying 65% percent of the possession, but the likes of Karim Benzema, Ribery and Nasri simply couldn’t find the back of the net to give their side all three points.
A couple of players stood out for me in Laurent Blanc’s side for me today, but none more so than right-back Mathieu Debuchy. This is the first time I had seen the Lille right-back in action and he looks like he could be a very valuable asset for any side. Comfortable in defence and a constant threat going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lille recieve some bids for their defender if he build’s on this form.
In midfield, France looked very solid with the ever present Alou Diarra providing the experience while Yoan Cabaye, coming off the back of a tremendous season at Newcastle, showed a great range of passing and general attacking play and had the freedom to get forward while Diarra stayed deep to cover the defence incase of any English counter-attack.
Speaking of solid players, England looked strong at the back. Glen Johnson looked a lot more comfortable than in previous appearances for the Three Lions, while John Terry and Joleon Lescott showed a great understanding with each other and the signs of a good partnership.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up, but the winger’s inexperience showed on the day as he turned in a mixed performances where he showed glimpses of what he can do, but ultimately this tournament may have come too soon for the Arsenal youngster. James Milner also failed to sparkle on the other wing today, with the flanks possibly being England’s being exposed as England’s weak link.
France will be disappointed they didn’t leave with what would have been a deserved three points, but England and their fans will be delighted to come away from Donetsk with a point, but they will still need to up their game when they face Sweden next.
Now, onto the second fixture of the day which was played out by Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine. With the exception of a threatening Zlatan Ibrahimovic shot and a rasping, long range effort from Andriy Voronin, the first half really wasn’t anything to get excited about and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in hoping for a better second half, and that is exactly what we got.
With seven minutes of the second half gone, Ibrahimovic opened the scoring when Kim Kallstrom fed a ball to the AC Milan striker who poked the ball past Andriy Piatov with a deft touch from close range. Ukraine made an immediate response however as the legendary old man of the squad, Andriy Shevchenko, powered home a header to bring the co-host nation back on level terms.
As the game hit the hour mark, the momentum looked have swung in Ukraine’s favour as they put more pressure on Andreas Isaksson’s goal. Another searching ball was sent into the box, and who else but Shevchenko was there to get on the end of it and put another header beyond the reach of the PSV Eindhoven ‘keeper, an impressive goal from a tight angle.
Despite late pressure from Sweden, Ukraine held out for a fairytale win and the post match celebrations mirrored that of a team who had just won a Cup Final which shows just how much this result means to them.
Once again, Andriy Shevchenko will be the name on everyone’s lips in Ukraine, but I think one man who deserves credit for his performance is 22-year-old Yevhen Konoplyanka. The winger was a constant threat for the Swedish defence showing great pace, trickery and linking very well with the two strikers. He also showed the quality of delivery he had by setting up Shevchenko’s second goal from a corner.
I was also impressed with Christian Wilhelmsson for Sweden. The Al-Hilal winger still has plenty of pace at 32 and caused plenty of trouble for the Ukranian defence. A player whose name may be recognised from his loan stint at Bolton Wanderers and being linked with a move to Spurs which unfortunately fell through.
Tougher tests await Ukraine, but following tonight’s memorable victory, they will face France and England with great confidence and with a loud and certainly proud set of fans backing them from the stands as they act as the 12th man. Sweden meanwhile need to work on their finishing, which really was all that was lacking this evening, but with goalscorers of the standard of Ibrahimovic, Johan Elmander, Ola Toivonen and Rasmus Elm, they will be hoping tonight’s wastefulness on front of goal is just a once off.