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Euro 2012

Let me set my stall. I’m in no way condemning the analysis of football games as a whole. There are countless examples of delicious analysis morsels. But much like scone dough, if you over work it you’re left with a little dollops of rubbish which no amount of cream and jam can rescue.

The two most glaring examples that come to mind are; the Chelsea Vs Barca semi final(s) and the recent Spain Vs Portugal penalty shoot out. In both examples, the margins are so incredibly fine that the entire analysis would have completely changed if the trajectory of a strike was altered by a single inch.

With the Chelsea Vs Barca game, Roberto Di Matteo was lauded as a tactical mastermind for stifling Barca. Sitting deep and packing the box to frustrate, then pouncing on the break to snatch their improbable goals and earn a historic victory. Yet in the two legs Barca had; a penalty hit the post, a shot cleared off the line, and 3 other shots hit the post. If any one of these had actually sneaked in then the game would have drastically changed. Barca would no longer have had to be incredibly attacking, instead they would be quite comfortable stroking the ball around midfield in their own special brand of football masturbation, drawing a Chelsea side now desperate for a goal out from the depths of their box and thus making them more vulnerable to the Barca attacks. Roberto Di Matteo would have been lambasted for his unambitious tactics, portrayed as a man out of his depth and quickly removed from his post. As my girlfriend is fond of saying “the difference a few inches would make”.

The Spain Vs Portugal penalty shoot out is another example of a desperate search for analysis, when good fortune should probably be the main conclusion.

Both teams have their first penalties saved, both score their next two penalties to tie the shootout at 2-2. Ramos slots a cool chip into the net, giving Spain 3 goals from 4 penalties. Bruno Alves steps up, smashing his penalty into the crossbar, achingly close to the perfect penalty. Fabregas steps up for Spains fifth and final penalty, smashing it into the post, which then deflects into the net. This led to Fabregas batting away the praise, lauded as a man cool under pressure who consistently delivers for Spain when they need it most. Bruno Alves had “bottled it”, with doubts cast over Nani’s admittedly bizarre decision of stopping Alves as he reached the penalty box, only to nip in and steal his 12 yard appointment with fate. Ronaldo was also brutally cast as the glory hungry diva, opting (assuming he had any say in the matter) to take the potentially decisive final penalty, instead of taking all 4 of the previous penalties and securing his countries progression to the final.

One man hits the post and his country progress to the final, the other hits the post and sends his country home.

Allow me once more to venture into the realms of the “what if”.

Alves steps up to take his penalty. A fraction of an inch lower, it skims the bottom of the crossbar before straining the net of the top corner, the perfect penalty. Fabregas steps up to take his penalty, a fraction of an inch further to the left it hits the post and deflects wickedly away from the goal. Ronaldo steps up for the final penalty, smashing it home. Ronaldo is a hero, the perfect captain taking the brunt of the pressure away from his team mates and excelling. Fabregas “bottles it”, the pressure “too much for him”. Alves is lauded for shaking off the increased pressure heaped on him by Nani, his emphatic penalty compared to Pirlo’s glorious Panenka for psyching out Fabregas and inspiring victory.

Once again, just one inch the difference between glory and disgrace.

Now clearly it’s a leap to hypothesise these potential glories. Ronaldo could have missed, they all could have missed. It’s just an example of how extensive analysis is not always able to explain the victories or defeats. Sometimes lady luck really is to blame, and perhaps we should all just shut the fuck up every now and then.

by @Miketweetgood

Follow us on twitter @feetballsblog

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 “If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that… I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.”
― John Lennon

Cristiano Ronaldo eh? The ultimate in marmite footballers. On one hand you can hold him in the same esteem that one may hold your Cruyffs, your Beckenbauers, your Peles, and on the other you may hold him with the same disdain that one may with your Bartons, Savages, or Terrys.

Let’s get one thing straight, Ronaldo is an excellent footballer, there’s things he can do with his feet that many can’t do with their hands. He’s the spark, the ingenuity, the ‘x-factor’, that footballing demi-god every team wishes they had in their side. So, why the derision? Why the hatred? Does Messi get this much stick from all quarters? Never.

Why do the two players get compared so much anyway? Is it too hard to just enjoy the two players at the height of their games? Maybe this is a rivalry borne from brand identification more than anything. Messi; Adidas, Barca, El Mundo Deportivo. Ronaldo; Nike, Real Madrid, Marca. Is this why the two are locked in this never-ending rivalry? Possibly…

 

Recently at a press conference before the recent Portugal/Netherlands game Ronaldo was asked about Denmark’s fans chanting ‘Messi’ towards him, which obviously annoyed him no end and brought out a few childish giggles. “You know where he was at this time [last year]? Do you know? He was being eliminated in the Copa America, in his own country,” Ronaldo said at the post-game press conference. “I think that’s worse, no?” Strangely it reminded me of that scene from Happy Gilmore where ‘Shooter’ McGavin was dismissing questions about Adam Sandler’s character.
“Trying to reach the green from here, Shooter?”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible, sir”
“I beg to differ. Happy Gilmore accomplished that feat no more than an hour ago.”

Even at the Czech Republic game a banner was unfurled with the message that “Messi is still better”. It seems wherever he goes, and whatever he does, he is constantly compared to the diminutive Argentine master.

The two players couldn’t be more different either. One is a 5’7″ scruffy looking chubby faced kid who wouldn’t look out of place at a skate park or a garage band, the other is a 6’1″ muscular, athletic, good looking, tanned, Adonis with a string of model girlfriends. One looks very much a Rolls Royce player, the other a KIA. Both are very much aware of how good they are, it’s a pre-requisite for a world class talent to never have doubts about your ability, however one is as humble as a lamb, the other thinks he’s a popstar.

 

Maybe it has a lot to do about the environmental and social upbringing of both players more than anything. There’s a story doing the rounds about Alexander Hleb during his time in Cataluña asking Xavi Hernandez what sports car he should get, the reply “You can drive what you want in your spare time but don’t bring it to the training ground, it’s not the type of thing we do at Barcelona” Maybe it’s this ethos taught to Messi during his early formative years has had an effect of keeping his feet on the ground and being thankful for what he has. Ronaldo however, well, there’s only so many sports cars, supermodels and lavish lifestyle choices one can make. Whilst Messi is engaged to a girl from his home town of Rosario in Argentina. Meanwhile Cristiano can be seen having a boozy vodka-fuelled night in Paris (Hilton).

There’s been a few times it’s been mentioned that Ronaldo needs to be the centre of attention, he’s had accusations of being ball-greedy, not being a team player, being very much an individual, a ‘total fucking rock star from Mars’ to put it mildly. It was noted in several media outlets than when Silvestre Varela scored the last-gasp winner for Portugal against Denmark during the Euro 2012 group stages, he was the only player not to celebrate with the goal scorer despite being the closest to him; almost as if he was pissed off he wasn’t the one who got the winner.

Messi on the other hand is not only the greatest individual talent in Barcelona’s long illustrious history, but also one hell of a team player. If he wasn’t a team player, he wouldn’t be in that Barcelona side at all (the reason Ronaldinho was tossed on the scrap-heap, well… that and the pies). It’s the way they’re bred apparently.

 

On a recent interview with Time Magazine Messi was asked about comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I never really fixated on him or compared myself with another player. My mentality is just to achieve more each year, to grow both as an individual and as a team, and if he wasn’t there, I’d be doing the same thing.”

In comparison Ronaldo recently said in an Interview;

“It’s like comparing a Porsche to a Ferrari. We push each other in competitions. Some people say I’m better, some people say it’s him. People try and decide who is best at the moment; I’m thinking it’s me”.

Although he said that with his tongue firmly in his cheek you can see from the 2 interviews that one player is definitely thinking about the other. You can just imagine him coming off the pitch at Mallorca or somewhere like that after bagging a hat-trick to run straight to the nearest TV and then curse his luck as Leo sticks 4 past a hapless Villarreal and the headlines head north to Barcelona again, like an evil villain repeatedly getting thwarted by super human heroics.

 

Both have had awful times at international level however. Football purists will say 60-80 goals a season will mean very unless an international tournament is won by either of them. In this instance I believe Ronaldo has finally bested Messi. Only one player is ever going to drag his international team-mates to glory, through his sheer bloody-mindedness, arrogance and that “give me the ball attitude” rather than his humble, team playing counterpart. Argentina look to Messi for answers, Portugal already know the answer, give the ball to that guy in the number 7 shirt, he’ll do the rest.

Interestingly since that post-Denmark press conference Cristiano has upped his game significantly with 2 virtuoso displays in 2 games, netting 3 (could been 17) and winning games for his country. He’s finally showing his Madrid form for his country, something he has been slated for by certain sections of the Portuguese press.

With Messi successfully bogarting the #1 spot for FIFA Ballon D’or for 3 successive seasons, the most famous footballer to ever be named after Ronald Regan (I hope that’s true) has finally got the chance to put one over his Los Culés arch-nemesis. An international tournament with the blistering brand-mark of CR7 on it would secure that, surely? 2 games, 2 wins, and he can thank his Portuguese team-mates in his acceptance speech in Zurich in 2013.

 

Or will it be a case of him running up to the podium and running away with the Ballon D’or trophy the way ‘Shooter’ McGavin did with Happy Gilmore’s winner’s jacket?

 

by @semtex_elvis

follow us on twitter @feetballsblog

Last night a previously impressive Russian side, who seemed to be an outside bet for the title, slump to a Greek side who were so completely rubbish against the Czech Republic its a wonder they weren’t forced to pack up their Feta and go home early.

Russians weren’t even particularly bad, they dominated possession and played with real attacking intent. Andrei Arshavin a particular highlight with his smart, incisive passing, clever runs and even tracking back to help in defence, which prior to the match seemed less likely than Andrei being named a contender for Russia’s tallest man.

Where Russia went wrong was that they fell into the classic Arsenal trap. A technically more proficient team, they were quite capable of retaining possession. Where they faltered was in focusing the massive majority of attacks through the middle, trying to thread delicate  through balls through a compact and organised Greek defence who were more than aware of the threat. When this failed they generally resorted to a hopeful long shot, with several coming agonisingly close but few genuinely troubling the keeper.

This led me to wonder why so many teams are hellbent on a ‘plan A’ regardless of the in game success of said plan. Whenever Russia, rarely, tried to attack the Greek flanks they seemed to have some amount of success. Considerably more than when trying to smash their drunk Kossack pony through the walls of Troy. Given that the Greek defence was predominantly concentrated in the middle of the box, fizzing Antonio Valencia style low crosses across the Greek goalmouth would have been an excellent option. Which, even if unfruitful, would have drawn the Greek defence out to protect the flanks, relieving congestion in the box and improving the effectiveness of a more centralised attack. By insisting on trying to force their Arsenalesque attack to work they also had a tendency to lose the ball on the edge of the Greek box with the majority of their defence out of position, leading to a plethora of quality Greek chances and the solitary goal to dump Russia out of the tournament.

There is always a tendency for stronger teams to play their specific brand of football and eventually overpower the opposition, the most famous proponent of this approach being Arsene Wenger. But the ability to adapt mid game is an incredibly valuable asset in top flight football, and one which was seen Alex Ferguson dominate over Wenger in recent years.

It was frustrating to see Russia take an early exit, particularly since I had backed them with my wallet as well as my heart, but their failure to adapt would not have seen them snatch success from any of the elite. Better luck next time.

The strangest of things has broken out on a rooftop in Warsaw…… passionate punditry! A rarity on British footballing tv, particularly at the mutual back-slapping fests that tournament football punditry can so often be. Roy Keane and Jamie Carragher actually seem to care about and genuinely enjoy the football on show in Poland and Ukraine past week! They are providing a hugely refreshing contrast with the bland ill-informed forced-mateyness of the BBC’s coverage.

Roy Keane’s glowering aggression seems to have lifted a little for this tournament (maybe it’s the Polish sunshine) to allow a slightly more relaxed and carefree approach to his opinion-gabbling, though with the unmistakeable undercurrent of possible violence toward Chiles. Jamie Carragher has had brief glimpses of punditing before, never to any great acclaim, too often it has been incomprehensible / bland / Liverpool-biased. This week Carragher is speaking real sense and defying the conventions of the careful pundit by actually saying what he thinks (and maybe slowing his Mersey accent ever so slightly).

It’s wonderful to see that when a team is performing badly they get angry and frustrated, and then launch into tirades on what the team or manager needs to do to fix it. The two bounce off one another with a raft of solutions and tweaks that would improve the performance of a team or a player. It puts to shame the unending lethargy and apathy of the BBC pundit panel, who always seem to want a game to end before it’s even started.

Adrian Chiles has also hence been forced to visibly up his game. Carragher often doesn’t quite “get” the game of punditry, to get an answer from him you need to ask him a straight question. On the few occasions Chiles has tried to pass a puffy pleasantry in his direction in the assumption that he’ll get some bland soccer chat back, Carragher challenges and asks Chiles to pin down what his actual question is. This has led to Chiles consciously thinking about questions and discussions topics, looking for tangible points of tactics and assessment, rather than just ‘banter’. A refreshing development and an offshoot of Keane and Carragher’s passion.

Sometimes it’s such thickly-accented animated invective that you almost think they might be swearing. Keane’s “football” can often sound dangerously close to “fuck all”. It’s a world away from the banality of Lineker and Hansen, and puts to shame the bare-faced idiocy of Savage and Quinn.

Quite often a game will get to half time and you’ll be able to see Keane and Carragher have been chomping at the bit with a welter of detailed subjects of analysis they want to get through. A world away from Lee Dixon and Alan Shearer making ‘jokes’ about not knowing any of the players’ names, or some irrelevant predictions Hansen made two weeks ago.

It’s pleasing to see that Chiles and ITV are doing nothing to rein in Keane and Carragher’s forthright opinions and passion. They are making a fitting companion to Gary Neville’s great punditry on Sky throughout the season.

The punditry bar has been raised.

By @Tom7p

Follow us on twitter, @feetballsblog

Group A.

Russia. Swashbuckling forward play orchestrated by the revitalised Arshavin.

Czech Republic. Cut to ribbons defensively, disjointed in attack.

Poland. The Dortmund route works. The Szczesny way failed.

Greece. Salpingidis full of life. The rock solid defence has abandoned them.

Group B.

Denmark. Heroic defensive work from Kjaer and Agger leave Denmark poised for possible progression.

Netherlands. Sneijder pings it around gorgeously. The collective pressure on the forwards tells.

Germany. Mertesacker ditched, Hummels and Boateng star in defence. Gomez misses many, but strikes at last. Impressive.

Portugal. Postiga not as bad as usual, but lack of link between defence and attack is their undoing.

Group C.

Spain. The strikerless art project fails. Need to find a cutting edge. Flaws at full back are a danger.

Republic Of Ireland. Undone by uncharacteristic errors. Ward a liability. Keane, Duff, McGeady still threaten.

Croatia. Corluka rocky at the back. Modric pulled the strings. Mandzukic and Jelavic supreme.

Italy. De Rossi perfectly marshalled Prandelli’s bold step into 3-5-2. Tough calls to be made in attack. It might just work.

Group D.

France. Sluggish defence look a liability. Nasri orchestrated fine attacking link-up. Will need to get Benzema more involved.

England. Compact defence worked. Parker and Gerrard drifted too deep in caution. Will need to find a plan for when Young is shackled.

Sweden. Continually overrun by speedy Ukrainian attacks. Zlatan impressive. Often struggled for the final ball.

Ukraine. Rampant issues at the back, especially Pyatov in goal. Konoplyanka provided drive. Shevchenko showed movement and clinical finishing.

By @tom7p

Follow us on twitter, @Feetballsblog

For many years the English public, duped by the tabloids, has been under the illusion that the England squad were among the very best in the world. With the blame for continuous failure placed at the doorstep of a foreign manager like a burning bag of digested pedigree chum. (I’m including Steve Maclaren in the foreign manager bracket as despite holding a British passport, from his “Championsh league, Arshenal, Mancheshter united” he’s clearly under the illusion that he’s Netherlands born and bred. Here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZnoP4sUV90)

Football blogging seems to have risen meteorically in the last 2 years, replacing the tabloids as the source of football knowledge for many and bringing with it a new breed of fan. A fan exposed to the marvellous tactical seminars of Zonal Marking, a fan conscious of the financial landscape portrayed by the Swiss Ramble, and a fan enlightened by the beautifully composed articles of Jonathan Wilson. This has dramatically expanded the horizons of many a football fan, with almost everyone I know more than aware of the talents of Hazard and Neymar, despite the French and Brazilian leagues rarely being shown on British television. Add this to YouTube compilations and Football Manager and, as anyone on twitter will know, we seem to be exposed to a torrent of splash back from the endless pissing contests between fans desperate their club signs a Giroud, Hazard or Lukaku despite never seeing them play an entire game. It’s the age of the YouTube scout.

Like Peacocks, football fans enjoy an elaborate display to secure their alpha status . Unlike Peacocks most football fans don’t have a magnificent plumage erupting from their arse. But what we lack in arse plumage, we make up for with a magnificent array of half baked opinions. The arse-opinion display de rigeur is “I don’t think England will leave the groups”, an opinion which suggests a wondrous depth of knowledge in Swedish, French, English and Ukrainian football. A depth of knowledge which, to be honest, is impossible to have. I am perfectly willing to admit that I only have one set of eyes, and this disability means that I find it difficult to watch more than one national league at a time. I feel like I have a reasonable depth of knowledge in the Premier League and of most major European clubs. But If you asked me about Sochaux I’d have to resort to “I hear Marvin Martin’s pretty good” and if you asked me about Shaktar Donetsk I’d have to go with “aren’t they all Brazilian like Willian?”.

The current England squad aren’t world beaters, but they’re still pretty good. Rooney is easily one of the best in the world on his day, Young’s starting to justify his price tag, Ashley Cole’s Champions League final performance puts him right up with the best in the world, the Ox is overflowing with potential and in Joe Hart they finally have a world class keeper between the sticks. But most importantly they have Hodgson. A man seemingly aware of their limitations, succeeding so far in making them very, very difficult to beat. Contrast that with Sweden, a team who have Zlatan, Elm, and not much else. Ukraine, still reliant on an ancient Shevchenko and a battle weary Tymoshchuk. With Chernobyl’s failure to produce super athletes a colossal disappointment. Admittedly Sweden and Ukraine don’t have Stewart Downing, but the “England won’t leave the groups” statement still starts to seem more and more like a knowledge codpiece. An illusion of continental insight which betrays a burning desire for attention.

My prediction would be that England finish second in their group. I don’t think they’re better than France, but they’re definitely not as bad as some seem to think. With the right amount of tactical nous, luck and *chokes back vomit* “English grit” they might just go further than expected. But if you mention 1966 I’ll kick you in the bollocks.

by Mike, @miketweetgood

Follow us on twitter, @Feetballsblog

Group A.

Russia
Took the Czechs apart in swashbuckling style. Kerzhakov missed a record-breaking hatful, but Dzagoev picked off his chances. Arshavin pulled the strings to great effect and Pavlyuchenko came off the bench clinically, finding the form that has eluded the mercurial ruskies in North London. They did though have spells of poor ball retention, allowing the Czechs chances. Overall though, Russia look incredibly strong and sudden semi final contenders.

Czech Republic
Royally exposed defensively by the Russians, particularly at left back. Had spells of good possession but often failed to find a good quality link between defensive midfield and Baros. Expect the Poles to exploit that defensive weakness on the left flank. Gebre-Selassie (not the Marathon runner) impressed at right back, particularly going forward. Should struggle to get out of the group though.

Poland
Started brilliantly against Greece. Pisczek and Blaszczykowski combined to superb effect down the right flank, carving out numerous gilt-edged chances for their Dortmund colleague Lewandowski. However fell apart to dramatic effect in the second half. Poor protection from midfield, defensive confusion and chaotic goalkeeping let Greece snatch a well-earned draw. Tyton did very well in goal after his napalm baptism and should be a solid base for the Russia fixture.

Greece
An abysmal first half, taken apart in fairly straight lines by Poland. Samaras toiled and ran to good effect, but Salpingidis was their star of the show. Salpingidis made fantastic, incisive forward runs. Completely overshadowing the underwhelming Ninis in the process. The Czech game will be key for them, impossible to see such a limited team getting anything against the slick Russians.

Group B.

Denmark
A surprise victory against the Netherlands. Conceded 28 shots, but many were from wide or from distance. Kjaer and Agger defended fantastically well, always applying pressure to Van Persie. Eriksen’s performance was fairly anonymous, roaming around the pitch, but never getting a huge amount of the ball. Quite lucky to nab their victory, but a fantastic platform to get out of the group with.

Netherlands
Dominated the game, peppering Andersen’s goal. Van Persie had eight attempts and failed to even truly look like scoring once. The Dutch concerns of the pressure getting to him rang visibly true. The uncertainties on Dutch forward selection which led to that pressure will almost certainly continue. The inexperienced defence performed more soundly than expected, and Sneijder was glorious in midfield, but the Dutch will have to beat their ultimate enemy, Germany, to have any real chance of progress.

Germany
In a word, impressive. Mertesacker wisely cast aside after a woeful run of performances. Hummels steps in as the defensive fulcrum and performs to his very best Dortmund standard. The sometimes flaky Boateng defended to near perfection against Ronaldo. The only disappointments will be the multiple missed chances from Gomez, and Podolski’s anonymous performance. With so much competition for places, Podolski will need to raise his game quick (Götze waits in the wings). Looked real contendors for the trophy.

Portugal
A very limited set-up, as advertised. Ronaldo and Nani performed ably, and Postiga exceeded expectations, but there was the predictable lack of link between defensive midfield and the forward line. Moutinho and Veloso looked great, but expect to see Portugal gambling on a more attacking option than Meireles.

Group C.

Spain
Collapsed into self-parody with their striker-less formation. For the bulk of the game, it didn’t really work. Their passing hummed along as ever, but very few of those cut through into the final third. For the bulk of the game they were outsmarted by Prandelli. When Fabregas was pushed further forward it started to work, and hence their goal resulted, but it only occurred when forced. The introduction of Torres worked even better, if only he had the balls to finish. The cries for Llorente will grow louder. Their double defensive midfielders didn’t actually protect the back line all that well, posing a tactical challenge for Del Bosque. The full backs were exposed defensively a number of times, particularly Arbeloa. This will be no cake walk for the Spaniards.

Republic Of Ireland
Way below their usual high standard defensively, but maybe created more going forward than expected. A number of defensive errors (particularly by Ward and Given) were ably-exposed by Croatia. Trapattoni will do everything he can to eradicate those defensive errors, dropping Ward might be a start. Andrews got forward far more than expected. A link from midfield to attack is missing, but there is no real option in this squad to fix that. McGeady and Duff performed well, and will surely keep McClean at bay. Walters did far more from the bench than the lumbering Doyle did, and will be a strong contendor to nab his spot. The dream isn’t over for Ireland yet, but it certainly got off to a very bad start.

Croatia
Clinical and adventurous. Modric linked play wonderfully well, with Jelavic and Mandzukic battering the Irish defence. Nobody expected Croatia to have such creativity and fun. The defence was not overly-tested, though Corluka did still find a few chances to look shaky. The verve and cutting-edge they showed could sneak a result for them against Italy or Spain.

Italy
A late tacitcal switch after experimentation in friendlies took them to the 3-5-2 utilised so effectively by the Serie A champions that make up eight of their squad. For a tactic they had not used a huge amount, it worked remarkably well. De Rossi performed superbly as a loose third centre back (bar one false offside glitch), providing deadly tackles and great linking, passing play. The wing backs performed as genuine wing backs and continually got forward to great effect, though Maggio was caught out too far forward by Alba once or twice. Pirlo passed beautifully, as always, and Marchisio got forward and made a real difference between the lines for Italy. Cassano and Balotelli linked up well, but Balotelli failed to take his chances and was hooked for the über-reliable deadly finishing of Di Natale…. who scored with his first attempt. This Italy side could go a long way with their experience and tactical adaptability.

Group D.

France
A fairly cautious line-up from Blanc. The defence were exposed at times, personnel changes may be sensible, but unlikely mid-tournament. Nasri jinked and linked very well throughout, with Ribery in able support. Debuchy got forward well and inched his price tag up a little further. Surprising to not see Giroud thrown on in an attempt to grab a goal, but Blanc seemed content with a draw at the end. They employed a high defensive line in the first half, which created a lot of space for England’s quick forwards. For the second half the defence was a lot deeper with the defensive midfield coming with them and cramping the space for the England quicks. France were also guilty of a lot of cynical pulls on the halfway line, preventing England’s counterattacks. It is clear that they are concerned about the defence’s lack of pace: somebody will pick that off.

England
Compact stuff defensively. The central midfield was always sat upon the back four. It was then predominantly left to Young and Welbeck to lead attacks. Welbeck had an outstanding game leading the line at such a young age. England’s defence performed pretty flawlessly. Hart had one or two early jitters, but became his usual commanding confident self in the second half. Hodgson will work on the positioning of Gerrard and Parker, but it certainly looks a solid base in defence. England will just need to find forward combinations and links that can unlock tighter defences than this suspect French back line. Oxlade-Chamberlain performed calmly and intelligently throughout. Flashes of brilliance showing the player he may be soon, but isn’t quite yet.

Sweden
Handsome they may be, successful they weren’t. Overwhelmed by the Ukrainians’ boundless enthusiasm and Shevchenko’s deadly finishing. Zlatan shrugged off lazy commentary to form a great pivot for the team as they managed to create a number of good opportunities. Their back line and defence were simply outpaced far too often though. Mellberg has been slow for years, and the full backs lack awareness. Sweden looked disjointed for most of the game, and will need to up their game dramatically if they are to have any chance in the tournament.

Ukraine
Started poorly. There are clear weaknesses at the back. Pyatov is a shockingly poor keeper in every department. He looked susceptible to everything, but particularly high balls. Khacheridi looked one of those centre backs who has all the skills required, but is a bit too bonkers to be a good, calm centre back. Their frenzied attacking play worked really well and often overran the Swedes. Konoplyanka had real drive and was very direct in his runs. All topped off with clinical finishing from a resurgent Shevchenko. The Ukrainian nation will be on a massive high, and this could sweep them to a second win and progress.

Germany, Croatia and Russia were the stand-out sides of the first batch of games; with the Netherlands the biggest underperformers. Poland v Russia and the monstrous Netherlands v Germany have to be the pick of the second batch of matches.

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By @tom7p

Follow us on twitter, @Feetballsblog

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