Selasa, 05 Juni 2012

Euro 2012: Two Days to Go

*France finished their Euro 2012 warm-up by beating Estonia 4-0 in Le Mans this evening.

Frank Ribéry opened the scoring in the 25th minute before Real Madrid marksman Karim Benzema bagged a brace in the 38th and 47th. PSG attacker Jeremy Menez added his first goal for Les Bleus at the death.

Laurent Blanc's men are increasingly being talked of as title challengers in Poland in the wake of four wins and a draw in their last five games, particularly their 2-1 win away to Germany in February.

The French attack looks wonderfully fluid with Benzema the apex of a  4-1-2-3 shape and Ribéry and Samir Nasri close lieutenants. Mathieu Valbuena adds more flair to the attack and it will be a surprise if France will not be one of the most entertaining sides in Poland & Ukraine.

*Co-hosts Ukraine lost 2-0 to Turkey in Inglostadt, Germany, while Sweden beat Serbia 2-1 in Stockholm.

* UEFA President Michel Platini has tipped Spain and Germany to make the final. "It is evident that these two sides have something extra," he told UEFA's magazine.

Platini also confirmed the much-maligned hosts were ready to host Euro 2012, despite a catalogue of infrastructure delays and threats from Zurich to strip Ukraine of its co-hosting rights.

That said, traveling fans will not be arriving in as many numbers as before, put off by the immense distances involved and the exorbitant prices charged by Polish and Ukrainian hoteliers, described recently by Platini himself as "crooks and bandits". It will be interesting to see what those who do go make of the infrastructure compared to that of Austria & Switzerland in 2008.

* Have England entered a tournament with such low expectations? For once the traditionally rabid expectation is not there following Roy Hodgson's last-minute hiring and a never-ending sick list.

Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill, Frank Lampard, Jack Rodwell, Kyle Walker and Jack Wilshere all miss out through injury, while Michael Carrick, Ben Foster and Micah Richards talked themselves out of selection and Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two group games. Now Jermain Defoe is flying home after his father died suddenly.

A tough draw does not help raise hopes: On-fire France followed by bogeyman Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, possibly in need of points in their final group game.

One crumb of comfort is that Hodgson has won his first two games in charge and that in the 17 games since England were humiliated by Germany at the 2010 World Cup, their record is won 11, drawn 4, lost 2. Scalps included World Champions Spain and Euro 2012 qualifers Denmark and Sweden, but ominously the two defeats were at home by a single goal to France and the Netherlands.

Perhaps the lack of usual expectation will help by calming the players down, as will Hodgson's defend-first, hit-them-on-the-break tactics. 

The English League however, is the most represented at Euro 2012 however, with 79 players selected in finalists' squads. Germany is second with 48 players at the finals, followed by Spain with 33 and Italy with 31. Then comes Russia with 29, Ukraine with 27 and France with 25.

Uniquely, all of England's squad play in their home country's league; none of Eire's do.

Sweden is the qualifier whose domestic league supplies the least number of players at Euro 2012: Three. Interestingly there is one player coming from the USA (Ireland's Robbie Keane who plays with LA Galaxy) and one from Saudi Arabia (Sweden's Christian Wilhelmsson).

*Bayern Munich lost the Champions League Final but are supplying more players to Euro 2012 than any other club (13). Real Madrid are second with 11, Dynamo Kiev third with ten and Chelsea fourth with nine.

Arsenal have the most cosmopolitan range of players in Poland & Ukraine - playing for seven different nations.

- Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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