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Archive for June 21st, 2012

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FT France 0 – 2 Sweden

FT France 0 – 2 Sweden

Sweden have nothing to play for but mischief. France, meanwhile, are set fair. They have not lost for 22 matches and only a defeat by Sweden as heavy as Tomas Brolin could prevent them from making the quarter-finals but Laurent Blanc does not merely want to get there, he also wants to avoid having to come up with a solution to the riddle of how to beat Spain there. So he wants France to top Group D and turning the Swedes to pulp is their best way of doing that (although if England beat Ukraine by more than France beat Sweden, then Spain it is for Les Bleus.

Blanc might have been tempted to deploy Olivier Giroud to exploit Sweden’s well-known aerial shortcomings but he has decided to stick with the tried-and-trusted ploy of one-twoing their way through defences. Hatem Ben Arfa comes in for Jérémy Menez to add extra
ingenuity, while the only other change from the previous game sees the first appearance in the tournament of Yann M’vila, who will start
instead of Yohan Cabaye alongside Alou Diarra in a sturdy central midfield.

At 54′, Wilhelmsson initiated it with some diligent work on the left before Larsson clipped a cross in an Ibrahimovich met it with a magnificent volley from the edge of the area. Lloris didn’t even get a finger to it. 1-0 for Sweden.

At 90′, awful defending allowed Sweden to overrun Les Bleus and when a Wilhelsson shot came back off the bar Larsson thundered it into the roff of the net from eight yards! 2-0 for Sweden.

A fine performance by Sweden crowned with two excellent goals. France, meanwhile, produced a display as lethargic and incoherent as any during their 2010 World Cup misadventure. Play like that against Spain and they will be tonked worse than Ireland were.

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FT England 1 – 0 Ukraine

FT England 1 – 0 Ukraine

England play their usual 4-4-2 with Rooney in a withdrawn role behind Welbeck, infront of a midfield in which Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker will provide the heartbeat, bookended by Ashley Young and James Milner on the left and right.

Expect the Ukraine to line up in a 4-3-1-2, with Anatoliy Tymoschuk in a defensive midfield role, with Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko further up the field to his left and right. Denys Garmash will play in the hole behind a front two of Artem Milevskiy and Marko Devic.

At 47′, Rooney heads home at the far post from about two inches out after great work by Steven Gerrard and a howler from Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov. 1-0 for England.

England have seen off Ukraine, with Wayne Rooney nodding home the only goal of the game. England will play Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals. Curiously, my pre-tournament Guardian prediction was that England would be eliminated in the quarter-finals, by Italy … on penalties.

 

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FT Italy 2 – 0 Republic of Ireland

FT Italy 2 – 0 Republic of Ireland

So it’s all change for Italy. Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Federico Balzaretti, Antonio Di Natale come in. Out go Leonardo Bonucci, Mario Balotelli and the wing-backs Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini. For Ireland, Kevin Doyle gets another start, but, as expected, there’s no experimentation from Trapattoni.

At 35′, Ireland couldn’t clear after Di Natale’s clever shot from the byline. Italy won a corner, Cassano got across his marker and flicked a header that pinged off Given and dropped down over the line before Damien Duff could clear. 1-0 for Italy.

A wonderful, wonderful goal came from the Manchester City striker at 90′. A corner swung in and an acrobatic volley crisper and sweeter than a Granny Smith apple. 2-0 for Italy.

So Italy go on to face whoever finishes atop Group D, be it England, France or Ukraine. They wobbled in the opening 20-odd minutes and almost shattered in the final 15, but they survived in the end.

 

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FT Croatia 0 – 1 Spain

FT Croatia 0 – 1 Spain

Spain are unchanged after reluctantly accepting that playing a striker increases your chances of scoring goals, even when that striker is Fernando Torres. Croatia have left out a striker: Everton’s Nikica Jelavic is replaced by who-cares-who-he-plays-for-he’s-not-English-based’s Domagoj Vida in a reshuffled side, with Slaven Bilic presumably wanting to keep the 4-2-3-1 that worked so well in the second half against Italy. Danijel Pranjic also comes in for Ivan Perisic on the left of the attacking midfield triumvirate.

At 88′, Fabregas, under no pressure from a tired back four, played a delicious scooped pass to put Iniesta through on goal. He eschewed the pass, of course, instead laying it square past Pletikosa for Navas to walk it to within six inches of goal before hammering it gleefully into the net. The Art Project has its justification; they have actually walked the ball in. I thought Navas was offside after Iniesta’s touch, but replays show he was level. Iniesta’s two touches were masterful: he stretched to control the ball with his left breast and then, before Pletikosa had set himself for the shot never mind anything else, stabbed it gently past him for Navas to score. 1-0 for Spain.

Croatia are out of Euro 2012, while Spain go through as group winners. They did it their way, wearing Croatia’s defence out with tiki taka before applying a killer blow at the death. It was uncomfortably close, though, and Croatia had a couple of significant opportunities: Rakitic missed a great chance and they should have had a penalty with four minutes to go and the score 0-0.

Croatia’s gameplan was immaculate, given the quality of their opponent, but you need more than just an immaculate gameplan to beat this remarkable Spanish team. You can argue all night that their approach is reducing the effectiveness of a great team, yet it will still take something close to a perfect storm for anybody, even Germany, to beat them. They will play the runners-up in Group D.