Group D will be another exciting affair, with France and England both being fairly prone to flopping at major tournaments, while Sweden and Ukraine are both very capable of capitalising on such mistakes. After the madness that occurred during the tenure of Raymond Domenech at the 2010 World Cup, France will be in search of redemption – they have a squad capable of challenging the very best. England have had the pressure lifted from their shoulders as a result of a turbulent year off the pitch, with a new manager being appointed, and a racism scandal involving the former captain, John Terry. Could this lack of expectation give the England side the freedom to play without fear, and to the best of their ability?
France – Key Players: Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema – Prediction: 1st
The French have had a knack for messing up on the big stage in recent years. Since their victories in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, they have fallen in the group stages three times, and the quarter-finals once. They did reach the final when the World Cup travelled to Germany in 2006, however typically they suffered a catastrophic meltdown, with Les Tricolores legend Zinedine Zidane infamously headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi, and being dismissed in his final game for the national side. However a new generation carries hope, having matured from the chaos that occurred in South Africa under Raymond Domenech’s stewardship. The likes of Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema carry their main attacking threats, with Lyon’s reliable goalkeeper Hugo Lloris between the sticks. If they get their act together, then they are capable of topping the group comfortably.
England – Key Players: Joe Hart, Steven Gerrard – Prediction: 2nd
Roy Hodgson’s men go into the tournament this summer in a situation they haven’t been in for many decades. Fans, for once, aren’t expecting a stellar performance from their nation, and would mostly be content with quarter-final elimination. This contrasts hugely to the ill-founded, excessive optimism of the majority of England fans in recent years. It seems that the saga regarding Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion, and the appointment of Hodgson over fan-favourite Harry Redknapp as manager, have quelled the nation’s usually unrealistic expectations. For once, they are playing to prove people wrong, as opposed to proving them right – surely a more motivating scenario to be in. Joe Hart will be difficult to beat in the English net, while Steven Gerrard will be desperate to make as big an impact as ever in what could be his final major international tournament. All England need is one of their forwards to perform as they are capable of, and they could turn a few heads this summer.
Sweden – Key Players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Larsson – Prediction: 3rd
The Swedes will be hoping to challenge England for second place this summer, and they will rely heavily on their robust forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He often struggles to carry his scintillating league form over into international competitions, and the Champions League, so he will have something to prove this summer after coming out of international retirement. His partner up front will most likely be Johan Elmander, who enjoyed a fantastic final season at Bolton Wanderers recently, while Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson will provide an omnipresent threat through his deadly set pieces. However their defence isn’t quite as impressive, revolving around an aging Olof Mellberg, formerly of Aston Villa. They will provide good competition for England, and could seize upon any slip-ups from them.
Ukraine – Key Players: Andriy Shevchenko, Andriy Yarmolenko – Prediction: 4th
The co-hosts will have a tough time in Group D, and they haven’t exactly made it easy for themselves. Only a couple of months ago, an important league match between the nation’s biggest sides, Shakhtar and Dinamo, sparked controversy and rifts within the squad. Yaroslav Rakytskyi and Dynamo skipper Oleksandr Shovkovskyi were the focus of the disagreements, with the former claiming that the latter had verbally abused him. With 15 members of their squad playing their club football at either Shakhtar or Dynamo, these events will most likely have a detrimental effect on their performance. However, their long serving forward Andriy Shevchenko, or Sheva as his fans call him, will be looking to improve his impressive international goal tally of 46 in just over 100 games. They come into the tournament on the back of defeats against Austria and Turkey, and have fallen at the hands of fellow Group D members France and Sweden less than a year ago, suggesting they won’t quite be capable of progressing to the knockout stages.