Each day this week we’re getting you ready for Euro 2012, the European soccer championships, hosted by Poland and Ukraine. On Monday we previewed Group A and on Tuesday Group B, Wednesday Group C and today Group D
GROUP D (England, France, Sweden, Ukraine)
No matter who else is in the group, when you put France and England together in pool play at a major international soccer tournament, compelling theater results. Unfortunately for France in 2010 and England in 2012, the theater remained largely off the field. France couldn’t overcome their distractions in 2010, but are back for redemption and England hope they can overcome the strife of the last five months.
Nickname: The Three Lions
World Ranking: 6
Their No. 6 world ranking is awfully generous considering the turmoil England has gone through of late. A few months back, their manager quit and threw the soccer-loving nation into fits. Compounding the misery is their best scoring threat, Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney, is suspended for the first two games of the tournament and a rash of injuries (Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, Gareth Barry) leave the team’s roster thin. Though Frank Lampard’s exclusion may be a blessing, with midfielder Steven Gerrard getting the room to operate he didn’t have when Lampard was in the lineup. Coming into big tournaments, English fans, rightly or wrongly, usually expect that their team can win it all. This year, no such optimism follows this team.
Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)
World Ranking: 14
France absolutely embarrassed themselves at the 2010 World Cup. A player revolt against their peculiar manager certainly didn’t help their focus as they bounced out of the tournament in the first round. In fact, the French haven’t won a match at a Euro or a World Cup since the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup. New manager, legendary defender Laurent Blanc, who was a member of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning squad, now leads a team trying to regain its stature. Some of the players from the 2010 debacle, like Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, are back this time around, but the mood feels much different. They French may not go deep in this tournament, but with a talented goal-scorer in Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema (28 goals and 12 assists during his club season), solid midfielders in Franck Ribery and Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, they won’t embarrass themselves again.
Nickname: Blagult (Blue-Yellows)
World Ranking: 17
Long a defensive team under old coach Lars Lagerbäck, Sweden hopes to welcome a new era of attacking soccer. Though it’s a new system, old faces remain, especially the towering and talented striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The new system seemed to work well in qualifying, with Scandinavian side scoring 31 goals in qualifying, which included a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands in November.
Nickname: Zbirna (Selection)
World Ranking: 52
I guess it would be rude to not let the host attend their own party, so Ukraine gets to play in Euro 2012 by virtue of providing the stadiums.
Matches You Need to Watch
You’ll want to check out France vs. England, on June 11 at noon EST, simply because they truly don’t like each other, which makes their rivalry entertaining. But the most important match to decide what team will take second place in the group will be Sweden vs. England on June 15 at 2:45 pm EST
This group is awfully wide-open. England’s injuries, France’s uncertainty and Sweden’s new system all leave a ton of questions. England have too many distractions and too few players to succeed, so expect Sweden to come second in the group and France takes it. However, both teams lose in the quarterfinals.