Group D played their initial games today with one match an unexpected classic. To the reports!
England v France
The two frontrunners met in the first match of the day with Laurent Blanc’s high flying, pass-and-move France taking on Roy Hodgson’s negative, soul-sucking, defensive to the point of being offensive England. Football is not about being attractive, it is about results, and both teams earned a point in a 1-1 draw. It was a case of…of…of….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….
Jolen Lescott gets his giant, hideous head on the ball.
Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right. Soon after Jolen Lescott scored on one of ambitious England’s three attempts on goal, France came back down the field and, after a nifty interchange between Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri, scored the equalizer with a wicked shot to the near post that Joe Hart failed to stop.
Nasri gets one by his club mate.
Despite holding the ball for 65% of the match and having numerous opportunities to press their technical superiority, France were timid, with Karim Benzema playing way, way too deep (and often too wide) and the entire French attack posted outside the box. The result was a toothless attack with little bite, a perfect compliment to England’s flat 4-4-2 which saw James Milner easily play the role as “worst player on the pitch”, wasting what few chances England had.
This was England at its most dire, playing no ambition, “mission accomplished” football; again, Gerrard was playing way too deep to get in the space between the midfield and defense because Scott Parker can’t seem to pass the ball forward. If you are going to play two in the middle of the field, you have to get Gerrard some room to roam and be dangerous. His free kick assist aside, he was anonymous. What England should do (and won’t) is put Ashley Young out wide, Gerrard in the hole behind Wellbeck, sit Oxlade Chamberlain for Downing, play Parker and Henderson in the middle of the park and get going with a 4-4-1-1 until Rooney gets back and you can put Gerrard and Young on the wings and Rooney in the hole with Wellbeck. Can Roy change his sleep-inducing 4-4-2 in time? No. But stay tuned anyway and suffer like the rest of us…
The Owl and the Pussycats.
Sweden v Ukraine
Okay, time for me to eat my hat. Watching Andreiy Shevchenko bury two headers for Ukraine in their come from behind 2-1 win over my boy Zlatan Imbrahimovic and Sweden, I felt like I was being pulled by a time machine, back back back, to 2004, when the Ukrainian striker was in his prime and lighting up the Serie A. Seriously, almost 36 years old and playing his first ever Euro (Ukraine automatically qualified as hosts of the tournament), Shevchenko electrified the tournament like no one has yet, scoring two thumping, knockout goals in front of an incredible home support. This will be remembered in Kiev for generations, a sparkling display of class from an ageless wonder who beat all my expectations with his performance. Let’s see the goals…
Just look at Sheva’s match winner, an inch perfect header between the body of Swedish defender Mikael Lustig and the post, about 12 inches away. That is devastating precision and power, but Lustig has to take some blame for not standing on the post. Still, the win was deserved for the most part; with all of my complaints that Ukraine looked too old on paper to be relevant in this group, it was the young players Andriy Yarmolenko and Evhen Konoplyanka who took up the mantle and pressed Sweden hard all night long. Yarmolenko in particular had the better of Swedish left back Martin Olsson, who gave him the space to deliver the cross for the first goal. Konoplyanka also played a great match, but perhaps could learn a thing or two about clinical finishing and patience from his number 7.
Still with Zlatan playing deep in the hole all night long, Sweden were crying out for better forward play ahead of him. A missed header at the end of the first half should have been buried, but he took his next chance well. At last, once Johan Elmander came on and Christian Wilhelmsson replaced Seb Larson in the final 20 minutes, Sweden found their groove, with Ibrahimovic lashing a venomous shot just a little too close to Ukrainian keeper Andriy Pyatov before flicking Elmander in on goal with a glorious lob pass that the striker, likely rusty after a long layoff, hammered over the bar when anywhere likely would have done. The misses can hurt you.
Just a bit outside…
I wasn’t the only one wondering where Sweden’s dangerous play had come from; after the match, manager Erik Hamren had some choice words for his team.
“We needed 11 players on top form together because we’re not that big a team, but only five or six showed the quality I want and that’s not enough…We didn’t reach our level until the last 20 minutes and it’s my responsibility as a coach. We didn’t show the courage and didn’t get as much from the players as I felt we should get. We were cowards in the first-half.”
Cowards? Wow. If that doesn’t get you ready for England, nothing will. Maybe Zlatan’s magic will be enough next time, but tonight is all about Shevchenko. My hat is off to you sir, primarily so I can eat it.
Sheva Delivers on the dreams of a nation