With the European soccer championship just days away, Vancity Buzz is previewing each of the four groups every day leading up to the first game on Friday June 8th. The UEFA European Championship is one of the biggest tournaments in the world, so whether or not you’re a soccer fan, take some time to get acclimated with these teams; you’ll be hearing a lot about them in the coming weeks.
Strong soccer nations England and France will look to advance past a group that contain past contenders Sweden and the other co-host nation, Ukraine.
Just over five months ago, England’s prospects at entering the Euro in good form were promising, but it’s been all downhill since winning their qualifying group in first, going undefeated in eight games. In addition to a new coach, injuries to important players, Wayne Rooney being suspended for the first two games, and issues surrounding the absence of centre-back Rio Ferdinand from the line-up mean England go into the tournament under tumultuous circumstances. Their fans have always had enormous expectations and fulfilling those lofty goals will be no easy task. They should manage to make it past the group stage with the combination of experience and new young talent in the line-up.
Player to watch: Theo Walcott – The speedy winger has always been highly thought of, though he hasn’t necessarily delivered in the past. With the absence of Rooney, Walcott will have to translate his flashes of brilliance into more consistent performances in order to supply the offense England needs to be successful.
Hampered by player and managerial controversy at the 2010 World Cup, France is looking for a fresh start heading into Euro 2012. Under new manager Laurent Blanc, France come into the tournament boasting a new wave of talent with players like Yann M’Vila, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Samir Nasri, and Karim Benzema all having great seasons with their club team. If they are to rediscover the glory that the team experienced in 1998 and 2000 when they were World Cup and Euro winners respectively, playing as a cohesive unit without the egos that have plagued them in recent years will be vital to their success.
Player to watch: Franck Ribery – The crafty midfielder had a brilliant year with Bayern Munich putting up 16 goals and 26 assists in 46 appearances, in addition to narrowly missing out on the Champions League title. Where as he has played second fiddle to other big names in the French squad in the past, Ribery is now in his prime and his creativity on the wing will be counted on to spark the French offense.
Though they might appear as the underdogs in this group, don’t discount Sweden; they finished just one loss behind the Netherlands in the qualifying stages and earned automatic qualification to the Euros as the best runner-up while scoring 31 goals, good for third best in qualifying. The talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 28 goals in 32 games for AC Milan, will be relied on heavily and look for veterans Olof Mellberg, Kim Kallstrom and Anders Svensson to lead the team. Sweden will hope to get second striker Johan Elmander healthy before their opener against Ukraine, in order to take some of the pressure off of Ibrahimovic.
Player to watch: Sebastian Larsson – the midfielder and set-piece specialist had a strong season for his club team Sunderland and his ability on free kicks will be very important to Sweden. If they can win fouls in dangerous areas, Larsson will be a huge threat, both shooting the ball and delivering crosses to the likes of Ibrahimovic.
Co-hosts Ukraine go into the competition against some tough competition and are coming off some losses in recent friendlies. Those matches were against some tough opponents such as France, Sweden and Uruguay, and buoyed by home-field advantage the Ukrainians could surprise some teams. 22 year old Andriy Yarmolenko had a brilliant season in the Ukrainian Premier League and he’ll need to use his goal-scoring prowess to keep his nation afloat in the tournament. Midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk will need to be a workhorse if they are to compete with opposing midfielders.
Player to watch: Andriy Shevchenko – The Ukrainian captain is well known to soccer fans around the world for his excellent play, during the mid-2000’s, leading his nation to a quarter-final appearance at the 2006 World Cup. Since then he’s dropped off considerably, but if Ukraine are to have any shot at advancing to the knockout stages, Shevchenko will be counted on to score some goals.