Tuesday night saw the culmination of the Euro 2012 group stages, with Group D providing England and France as quarter-finalists. Wayne Rooney returned to action to head the only goal of the game against Ukraine in a 1-0 win for the Three Lions, whilst Les Bleus crashed to a 2-0 defeat to Sweden.
Today sees a break in play as the remaining eight teams prepare for the unforgiving knockout rounds; here is the news from Ukraine and Poland that Soccerlens has been mulling over.
England ride their luck to top Group D
England entered into their final Group D fixture knowing that a draw against Ukraine would be good enough to get them through to the last eight of Euro 2012, and were boosted by the availability of Wayne Rooney once more after suspension. The returning hero’s header in the second-half sealed a 1-0 win in a tight game, whilst the Three Lions were handed a boost in the form of a French defeat to top the pool.
Hodgson resisted temptations to start with attacking players such as Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and opted to keep the same starting XI that had beaten Sweden 3-2 in their last game, bar Rooney’s re-entry at the expense of Andy Carroll. England looked like a side playing for a draw in the first 45, as the co-hosts had 57 per cent of the possession and most of the territory in an unimpressive showing by the British team.
The second 45 saw largely the same pattern, but Rooney popped up to separate the sides just after the interval with a close-range header to open the scoring, after good work down the right by skipper Steven Gerrard. England were lucky to stop their opponents from scoring, as Andriy Shevchenko’s absence left a lack of a clinical edge in the hosts attack, and Ukraine wasted a number of good opportunities. A Marko Devic strike appeared to have crossed the line around the hour mark, but the goal was not given as John Terry acrobatically cleared the ball off the line; Hodgson admitted after the game that his side rode their luck.
All-in-all the result is the most important thing, as England have delivered the performances to get them out of a tricky group. France’s unexpected defeat to the Swedes is an excellent bonus, as the Three Lions will now face the much-more beatable Italy rather than holders Spain.
Despite this, although Hodgson’s tactics have resulting in positive outcomes for the England side in the three group games, the stakes will be raised in the knockout phases. No longer will sitting back and defending be a solitary option, as the quality of teams on show will increase and conceding is at some point inevitable. James Milner has come under criticism for lacklustre displays so far, and the Manchester City man was once more conspicuous by his apparent absence; Hodgson needs the energy and attacking threat of either Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right flank to balance the side and act as an accompaniment to Ashley Young’s trickery and creativity.
Much was made of Rooney’s return, with expectations on the Manchester United man through the roof. Although the forward vindicated the hype by scoring the winner, he looked decidedly off the pace after not playing a competitive fixture in well over a month. The driving force behind the England win, and the standout player for the side in the tournament to date has actually been Steven Gerrard. Another assist for the Liverpool man was complimented by excellent set-piece delivery and a never-say-die attitude in the centre of the park alongside the industrious Scott Parker.
Italy are by no means a daunting prospect in the next stage, and looking at their tactics to date are actually quite similar to England. The Azzurri came out and looked to attack against Republic of Ireland in their must-win final game, but sat deep and absorbed pressure against both Spain and Croatia in Group B. With two naturally cautious sides going head-to-head, England should take the initiative and look to be bold and attack, as they are less likely to be caught out on the break by the Italians as they would have been against the Spaniards.
Expectancy is starting to grow in the nation after progression, but captain Gerrard has rightly stated that the side will take it one step at a time. With Italy, Germany and Spain still in the Three Lions’ path to glory realism must come to the fore, but there is no reason why the team cannot make the semi-finals should they play to their attacking strengths against a run of the mill Azzurri on Sunday.
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Germany’s philosophy the same as always
Germany coach Joachim Low has stated that his side have not changed their footballing philosophy or mentality in Euro 2012, and will stay true to their current methods.
Iniesta hits back at Spain critics
Spain’s performances have come under scrutiny in the tournament to date, as the world champions have not been their imperious selves as yet. However, Andres Iniesta feels the current side are better than the victorious teams of 2008 and 2010, and hit back at critics.
Croatia fans guilty of racism
Croatia fans have been found guilty of racially abusing Italy forward Mario Balotelli in the Group C clash between the sides, with the eastern European nation’s football federation getting a £65,000 fine from Uefa.
Swedes go home with their heads held high
Goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sebastian Larsson ensured that Sweden did not leave Euro 2012 pointless, and restored a bit of national pride as Erik Hamren’s men beat France 2-0 on Tuesday night.
Tomorrow I will be looking forward to the upcoming quarter-finals, with Czech Republic and Portugal the first teams to play for a semi-final spot – keep it here for the latest news from Euro 2012.