England And France Both Look To Advance

By: Bruce Marshall | Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Co-host Ukraine are a 3/1 underdog to take down the English on Tuesday.

Not often do hosts and co-hosts of international football tournaments exit proceedings before they enter the knockout stage.  But unless Ukraine can pull three points out of Tuesday’s encounter vs. England at Donetsk, then both of the co-hosts for Euro 2012 will be out of the competition after group play concludes.

Poland, the other co-host, has already been eliminated from the competition after losing on Saturday vs. the Czech Republic.

On Tuesday, however, Group D wraps up first-round play with a pair of matches in Ukraine to see which pair of sides will join the Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Italy in the knockout phase.

A quick look at the Group D table entering Monday notes that France and England sit in the catbird seats on four points, level at the top, with the co-host Ukrainians on three points and Sweden on the big donut and already eliminated. Following are brief look-aheads for Tuesday group D matches.  Remember, these matchups kick off simultaneously at 2:45 p.m. (ET).  We’ll have previews for the quarterfinal matchups later this week.

Ukraine vs. England (Donetsk)
Big news in the England camp on lots of fronts, especially personnel-wise with Man United’s Wayne Rooney back from suspension and eligible to compete on Tuesday.

The group ramifications are fairly easy to follow for this match.  England goes through to the knockout phase with a win or a draw; Ukraine needs nothing less than three points to advance.  England could conceivable advance to the next round with a loss, but only if France also loses and falls behind in goal differential.  Needless to say, both sides will be giving it a go in Donetsk.

A check of European wagering outlets notes that England, despite its visitor status, has been made a favorite, priced at even money on the win, with the take-back on the Ukrainians at a very tasty 3/1.  The draw has been priced at 12/5.  Television coverage in the states will be provided by big ESPN.

Rooney’s almost certain inclusion into England’s lineup is significant, as he likely moves Andy Carroll to the bench and slips into a spot slightly withdrawn from Old Trafford teammate Danny Wellbeck on the frontline.  More good news for England in that it has managed to score goals in Roo’s absence, netting four in the first two group matches, although the decisive strikes in the Sweden match resembled bumper-pool dynamics.

What is apparent about this English version, however, is how much it seems to be enjoying the ability to play some attack-minded football for new manager Roy Hodgson.  A veteran of international management dating back to his days coaching Switzerland at USA’s World Cup ‘94, Hodgson seems a much better fit than predecessor Fabio Capello.

Although England have yet to qualify for the knockout phase, already it is apparent that Hodgson’s troops are playing a much more-attractive brand of soccer than did Capello’s version.  What a break for England that the domineering Capello stepped down, and what a mistake it was for England to waste so much time and money on the gruff Italian.

England’s new-found version of champagne football, augmented by Rooney, will still have its hands full with the motivated Ukrainians, whose backs are up against the wall after Friday’s 2-0 loss vs. France.  The co-hosts continue to look to play on the counter, and the ageless striker, 35-year-old Andriy Shevchenko, has been in star form in his homeland.

Shevy and friends, however, could not conspire a goal last Friday vs. the French.  Still, there were decent opportunities created, and as long as Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka continue to fly down the flanks and seek Shevchenko in the box, England could spend large portions of this match on its heels.

Goalkeeping could prove the key, although neither England's Joe Hart nor Ukraine’s Andriy Piyatov have been airtight thus far.

Considering what’s at stake and the value in the pricing, it would seem hard to overlook the co-hosts at 3/1 on the win.

France vs. Sweden (at Kiev)
For the moment, France is level on points with England atop the quartet on four points. France also holds a +1 goal differential over England should tiebreakers arise for placing in the knockout phase.

A win or draw vs. Sweden in Kiev sends Les Bleus through to the quarters.  There is a scenario wherein France can also advance with a loss, if England also loses to the Croats and remains at a disadvantage in goal differential.

None of this matters to the disappointed Swedes, already eliminated from the knockout phase.

European oddsmakers are not giving the Swedes much of a chance, pricing France as a prohibitive 4/7 favorite on the win, with the take-back on Sweden a hefty 11/2.  He draw is listed at 3/1 in this battle at the Ukraine National Stadium, site of the finale on July 1.  ESPN2 will televise the events in Kiev back to the states.

France’s enduring international pattern of either making a real fist of it or abject capitulation in these tourneys appears to be continuing at the Euros.  Fortunately for Les Bleus, this adventure in 2012 seems to be leaning toward the former after Friday’s 2-0 win over the co-host Ukrainians.

France’s unbeaten streak also reached an eye-opening 22 matches after that win over the co-hosts.

Looking for a bit more bite in the attacking third, France manager Laurent Blanc made a couple of deft lineup switches before last Friday’s match, sitting Man U’s Patrice Evra and Chelsea’s Flourent Malouda in favor of Man City’s Gael Clichy and PSG’s Jeremy Menez.

France was indeed more incisive on attack, Menez scoring the first goal on a nice feed from Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema in the 53rd minute, while Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye put the match out of reach three minutes later.

It was also a better match for Bayern Munich Franck Ribery than in the opener vs. England.  Ribery fused extra discipline with his trademark pace and provided true midfield quality the entire match.  Goalie Hugo Lloris also came up big when needed as the Les Bleus rearguard appeared much more confident than it was the opener vs. England.

Meanwhile, the Swedes are left to rue defensive inconsistencies that have already cancelled their plans for the knockout phase.  Aside from veteran Olof Mellberg, the Swedish rearguard has looked sloppy too often, and Erk Hamren’s side remains shaky when defending set prices.  Sweden has created enough scoring chances, but the last touch of AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has often been faulty.

We doubt the Swedes muster enough to end the French unbeaten string, and we maintain that Les Bleus are a worthwhile longshot bet to make the final...if not win this event.

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