1. France – Les Bleus were drawn by England, but they still look like the group’s best team going forward. Opening match naivete from some inexperienced attackers saw France play Monday’s game out without any urgency. Then again, it was the first match of the tournament. Did they really need urgency?
2. England – One goal (not from open play), a few scares caused by Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck’s speed, and that’s about it going forward. We like to think that’s a symptom of their approach – the Three Lions’ reverence for France. What if it’s not? What if it’s a symptom of their limitations? Or (scarier), what if it’s just a function of their coach’s professional philosophies? If that’s the case, this ranking’s too high.
3. Ukraine – An inspired performance from Andriy Shevchenko vaults them to the top of Group D but not our ratings. Part of that is their competition’s performance, part of that is our doubt that Shevchenko can replicate his production. Of course, the may not need Shevchenko. Somebody else might step up. The problem with Ukraine is identifying who.
4. Sweden – It’s a very disappointing result, as Sweden would have wanted to get three from the team that felt the weakest in the group. Still, based on what we saw today, it’s not so far fetched to see them qualifying. Thankfully, they’re only one point out of second place.
Crystal Ball – What Needs to Happen Next Round
Group D resumes play on Friday:
Ukraine vs. France
Ukraine’s success against Sweden came from exploiting the flanks. It’s an approach that may serve them well against France (or at least force more of a defensive effort from Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri). Don’t expect Anatoliy Tymoshchuk to have as easy a night, though. If Laurent Blanc attacks in the same way he did against England, Tymoshchuk will have to shut down Samir Nasri.
France may have Yann M’Vila back, but the defensive midfielder’s greatest contribution won’t be ball winning. His presence at the base of midfield in the attacking phase should free up Florent Malouda and Yoann Cabaye, who won’t have to drop back to pick up the ball so often.
Sweden vs. England
The approach England used versus France should work against Sweden, but with the Swedes less dominant on the ball, England will get more time outside their own third. It remains to be seen how they handle those chances. If pre-tournament friendlies are any indication, Ashley Young should be their most dangerous player, especially if he’s allowed to get at central defenders Olof Mellberg and Andreas Granqvist.
Sweden would be best served reversing one of the changes that made for Ukraine. Erik Hamrén got aggressive against Ukraine, putting another goal scorer (Ola Toivonen) in the starting XI and moving a wide midfielder (Rasmus Elm) to the middle. The decision forced a holder (Anders Svensson) to the bench. It didn’t work, and against England, Sweden will want Svensson at the base of midfield so Kim Kallstrom’s heavy left foot can run onto opportunities Zlatan Ibrahimovic lays back from a packed England defense.
Where, exactly, Zlatan’s allowed to play is another issue. England’s central midfield played so deep that Ibrahimovic may have to operate from wide or 25 yards to to get the kind of possession he needs in that system. Still Sweden’s biggest goal scoring threat, Hamrén will have to decide what’s more important: Having him on the ball, or having him in position to score. Against England, Ibra may not be able to walk the line.
PST’s Euro 2012 “More Powerful” Rankings
1. Germany (–)
2. Spain (–)
3. Italy (-)
4. Russia (-)
5. France (-) – The result wasn’t ideal, but France showed enough to maintain their spot amongst the tournament’s second-tier favorites.
6. Croatia (-)
7. Denmark (-)
8. England (NR) – They offered just enough of a threat going forward to inch their way onto this list.
… and PST’s Player of the Tournament Wunderlist
1. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
2. Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine
3. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
4. Andrei Arshavin, Russia
5. Andres Iniesta, Spain
6. Daniele de Rossi, Italy
7. Andrea Pirlo, Italy
8. Simon Poulsen, Poland
9. Roman Shirokov, Russia
10. Dimitrios Salpingidis, Greece
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.