Like the self destructive, self abusive character Edie Falco plays in the eponymous Nurse Jackie, Group D sports a fragile look. Substance abuse is a day at a time, a minute at best. The Euro begins today but England has already run the gamut with a number of key injuries to a racism row with its potentially damaging aftermath consuming the narrative. Wayne Rooney their front line name is serving a two match suspension. It is par for a team that manages to shoot itself in the foot even before kickoff. The last World Cup was all about John Terry (that name should make anyone wince) pulling the strings as England limped out of the group stage after the Robert Green fiasco only to be shamelessly exposed by the Germans.
France imploded in the 2010 World Cup with a player revolt, a number of their marquee names were involved in underage prostitution, and Laurent Blanc held onto his job after being cleared of charges for allegedly pushing a plan that would restrict entry to football on racial lines. Hopefully they can get their act together and wipe out those unforgettable scenes of a French team that refused to ride the bus to a training session and an unhinged Nicholas Anelka sent home after screaming, “You f**king son of a wh**e” at Raymond Domenech.
Sweden might not quite be pushing the envelope but their talent has never translated onto actual success on the pitch with a number of hard luck losses. They failed to advance out of the group stages in Euro 2008 when David Villa struck in the 92nd minute and their 2010 World Cup qualifying ended tragically as Portugal swept aside Malta, 4-0, in their last match to clinch a spot.
Not much is known about Ukraine. This is the first time in the Euro for them and they qualify on the dint of being co-hosts. But they do have a penchant for playing some of the dreariest football which was borne out in the 2006 World Cup when their only tactic was to serve up a ceaseless supply of long balls to Andriy Shevchenko. It was Oleg Blokhin then and it is Oleg Blokhin now and they still have Anatoli Tymoschuk, Andrey Shevchenko, and Andrey Voronin to engage in a mouth watering display of scintillating firepower. Tongue firmly planted, nay, thrusting into cheek.
Qualifying out of this group might depend on the team that makes the fewest mistakes. The player who doesn’t react badly to having his private parts handled or to stamping on the prostrate opposition. Or to a botched goalkeeper save.
France has the most talent. A potentially excellent midfield in which every player has been associated with Arsenal at some point in their career either through fantasy football or Goal.com. Samir Nasri doesn’t count. The attack looks good with Olivier Giroud, the Ligue’s top scorer finding a place and Karim Benzema, providing more direct firepower. The defense is where France lies exposed and it could look a whole lot like Arsenal finding itself in sixes and sevens on the counterattack or on set pieces. Hugo Lloris will be a busy person between the sticks. This team could score plenty of goals but it could also leave the door wide open.
England’s chances lie with Joe Hart, the re-jiggered back line, and Andy Carroll. Hart’s a top notch talent as custodian. If he and the Terry led newly constructed back four can weather the flow and use Ashley Young and Theo Walcott to mount a counter then the Three Lions stand a chance. That is a tall order because they face France and then Sweden without Rooney as finisher. The two countries that directly benefit from his absence. Which means Carroll will have to impose himself like he did in the last few weeks of the Premiership. Hopefully the pony tailed striker can get above ground to knock some of those balls home.
Sweden has Zlatan Ibrahimovic who does best in these situations. A goal every two matches or so is an impressive national record. The flow will be controlled by the veteran Kim Kallstrom in his seventh year at Lyon. The defense lies in the hands of Jonas Olsson, a tough customer at Blackburn and veteran Olof Mellberg, every Villa fan pays homage to for those years at the club.
Ukraine will look to Andrey Voronin and Andrey Shevcehnko to score with their midfield controlled by Anatoli Tymoschuk. But there could be another Andrey who could prove influential and that is 22 year old Andrey Yarmalenko, a left footed winger out of Dynamp Kyiv ready to make the move to the bigger European leagues. The Ukrainian team is dominated by Dynamo Kyiv and their success is tied to their familiarity with each other.
France vs England should set the tone for this group but the biggest match will be Sweden vs England. These two countries have had some pivotal encounters in past international competitions.
Advance to round two: France, Sweden
Players to watch for: Joe Hart, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Yohann Cabaye, Olivier Giroud, Jeremy Menez, Yann M’Vila, Marvin Martin, Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Olsson, Martin Olsson, Sebastian Larsson, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rasmus Elm, Anatoli Tymoschuk, Andrey Yarmalenko
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Robert Green (West Ham), Jack Butland (Birmingham City)
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Martin Kelly (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), John Terry (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton)
Midfielders: Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Scott Parker (Tottenham), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Forwards: Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
Coach: Roy Hodgson
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
Defenders: Gael Clichy (Manchester City), Mathieu Debuchy (Lille), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Philippe Mexes (Milan), Adil Rami (Valencia), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon)
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle), Alou Diarra (Marseille), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Blaise Matuidi (Paris St Germain), Yann M’vila (Rennes), Samir Nasri (Manchester City)
Forwards: Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Jeremy Menez (Paris St Germain), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)
Coach: Laurent Blanc
Goalkeepers: Par Hansson (Helsingborgs), Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven), Johan Wiland (Copenhagen)
Defenders: Mikael Antonsson (Bologna), Andreas Granqvist (Genoa), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Olof Mellberg (Olympiacos), Jonas Olsson (West Bromwich), Martin Olsson (Blackburn), Behrang Safari (Anderlecht)
Midfielders: Emir Bajrami (Twente), Rasmus Elm (Alkmaar), Samuel Holmen (Istanbul BB), Kim Kallstrom (Lyon), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Anders Svensson (Elfsborg), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow), Christian Wilhelmsson (Al Hilal)
Forwards: Johan Elmander (Galatasaray), Tobias Hysen (IFK Gothenburg), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Milan), Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen), Ola Toivonen (PSV Eindhoven)
Coach: Erik Hamren
Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Oleksandr Horyainov (Metalist Kharkiv), Maxym Koval (Dynamo Kyiv)
Defenders: Oleksandr Kucher (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Shakhtar Donetsk), Vyacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar Donetsk), Evhen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kyiv), Taras Mykhalyk (Dynamo Kyiv), Evhen Selin (Vorskla), Bogdan Butko (Illichivets)
Midfielders: Oleksandr Aliev (Dynamo Kyiv), Denys Garmash (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleh Gusiev (Dynamo Kyiv), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Evhen Konoplyanka (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro), Serhiy Nazarenko (Tavriya), Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Bayern Munich)
Forwards: Artem Milevskiy (Dynamo Kyiv), Andriy Shevchenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Marco Devic (FC Metalist Kharkiv), Andriy Voronin (Dynamo Moscow), Evhen Seleznyov (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Coach: Oleg Blokhin