UkraineThe Good The comeback against Sweden, with legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko aptly scoring a brace for the co-hosts was one of the stories of the tournament. In tricky wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine rarely struggled for creativity from the wings, but the endeavour of these wingers wasn't rewarded and was ultimately a minor positive. The Bad The failure to conjure anything in the games against France and England after such a promising end to the game against Sweden. The final game versus England was particularly disappointing as goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov failed to contain Steven Gerrard’s cross and Wayne Rooney easily headed it in. With over-reliance on Shevchenko to be the marksman, there wasn’t any other striker in the team to assume the mantle when his fitness problems flared up.
It was a tricky group, but with the spur of the home crowd Ukraine should have done better. It doesn’t merely come to home crowd gusto, but there was enough experience (in Tymoshchyuk, Shevchenko and Voronin) and talent in the likes of Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko for the team to have progressed to the knockout stages – certainly more so than Poland, the other co-host. France and England weren’t spectacular teams and had they put them under more pressure, by taking their chances, they could have progressed. That said, the injuries to key players pre-tournament, notably Oleksandr Shovkovkiy and Dmytro Chygrinskiy, resulted in a disequilibrium for the co-hosts.
The performances of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The AC Milan striker went some way to perishing the ubiquitous thought that he is a big-stage bottler to the masses who still remain unconvinced of his enormous ability; scoring a tap in against Ukraine; bullying Lescott and JT boyo against England with his brutal strength; and then that scissor kick against France, which was undoubtedly the goal of the tournament. The win against France must have left a bitter taste of what-could-have-been.
Qualification promised so much more for a liberated and expansive Swedish side at, it seemed, the zenith of their qualifying campaign when they beat Holland. Whilst withering in the opening game against one of the host nations is excusable to some extent, the performance against England wasn’t. A side of Sweden’s calibre should have at least been able to hold on against England after going 2-1 up. The pace and trickery of Christian Wilhelmsson, who comes with great tournament experience, wasn’t used quite enough. When he finally started a game it was too little too late, but he certainly made a difference and was one of the standout players in win over France.
The defeats in the opening two games against Ukraine and England, particularly in the latter match. Coach Erik Hamren described the Ukraine performance as cowardly, and he was certainly within his rights to do so. Ibrahimovic aside, the rest of the side were non-existent; Rasmus Elm performed with the stage fright that hindered him as a youngster and Kim Källström’s passing wasn’t quite malevolent enough. Far more significantly, the defending, or lack of, proved pivotal. Coming into the tournament they had already conceded a multitude of headed/set-piece goals and their failure to fix this problem, despite possessing some tall players (it could be that they don’t have the players who attack the ball well enough), was a large part of their downfall.
Coming out on top of their group and undefeated under a new manager, England have achieved something they should be proud of, with most people tipping France to top the group. Sweden game aside, Roy Hodgson set up a formidable defence in order to prevent the likes of Italy and Ukraine from scoring and only allowing France to get one goal. The manager is obviously working from the back and making his way forward and should be credited for adopting such tactics and getting to the quarter-finals despite only being in the job for a short period of time.
Reluctance to keeping the ball in possession. Even though the “tiki-taka” style of play is not suitable for the current crop of England players, it wouldn’t hurt for them to string more than three passes together without hoofing the ball up to the big man up front (and eventually losing the ball in the process). Possession stats for England against France and Italy were 40% and 36% respectively. In the latter game, they gave Pirlo a lot of space to work his magic, which would have been fatal in the 90 minutes of normal time if the Italians were exponentially more clinical in front of the England goal against Joe Hart.
The familiar exit from a tournament via the penalty spot. Both Ashley Cole and Ashley Young missed their penalty kicks, which lead to Italy winning 4-2 on penalties to progress to face the Germans in what was an excellent semi-final. With England seeming to exit tournaments by either penalties or controversial means, perhaps a better approach to the game should be adopted. Finishing off their chances, especially sitters, would be a step in the right direction.
There were some good performances by Mathieu Debuchy and Alou Diarra in the opening two games. France were firmly in control in their 2-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine, a tricky hurdle, in a match that will be etched in the memory for the pre-game storm which delayed the match. Considering they came into the tournament on a 23-game unbeaten, though, the positives are miniscule, especially if you look at the fallout from their exit.
The loss against Sweden proved fatal as it meant France had to face the all-conquering Spain team instead of Italy, which would have been an ‘easier’ match. A baffling team-selection was Blanc’s decision to pick two right-backs, Mathieu Debuchy and Anthony Reivelleire (the former had rarely played as a right-winger), to man the right wing in order to put a stop to the nightmare-to-deal-with combination of Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta. It was a move that wasn’t vindicated as Spain’s opening goal came from Jordi Alba piercing forward through the duo and crossing for Xavi Alonso to head home. Their approach to facing Spain was not original – Italy, in the group stages, and Portugal too, showed that if you possess the defensive resources (which France arguably have), it is possible to press Spain high up the pitch and create chances of your own as well.
The ghosts of the 2010 World Cup reappearing just as France were starting to look like a team again. Once again, there seemed to be discontent in the French camp, a revolt on a microscopic scale compared to the one in South Africa, sure, but still a revolt explosive enough to have radiated the disunity in the camp to the world. Samir Nasri seemed unwilling to take orders from the France National Team hierarchy throughout the tournament, particularly with how to deal with the press, and it could be a while before we see him in France colours again with a reported two year ban looming. Bizarrely, other members of the squad weren’t reticent when it came to revealing details about the discontent in the camp, particularly with regards to Nasri.