The final round of fixtures in Euro 2012 takes place on Monday, as old enemies England and France do battle, before co-hosts Ukraine entertain Sweden. Group D looks like it could well be separated by the odd point, and as such all four sides will look to start with a positive result.
England vs France
One of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures of the group stages, England and France start the day’s football. Both sides have quality to challenge for qualification to the latter stages, but both have also undergone a transitional period recently and as such are slightly-unpredictable entities.
England have taken on Roy Hodgson as their new manager, who has started his reign with the nation with two 1-0 victories over Norway and Belgium in international friendlies. The Three Lions qualified for the finals relatively comfortably under Fabio Capello, and now need to prove they can compete in tournament football.
The English side have been rocked with injuries and unavailable players. Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two games of the tournament, which leaves Hodgson slightly short of options in attack. Rio Ferdinand has been overlooked for squad inclusion, whilst Gary Cahill, Frank Lampard, Darren Bent, Chris Smalling and Gareth Barry have all been ruled out by injuries.
England are sweating on the fitness of defenders Ashley Cole and John Terry ahead of the game, whilst Ashley Young is expected to play just off Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck in attack.
France have cruised along in qualifying without causing any major waves, but did top their pool in unconvincing fashion. Laurent Blanc has been at the head of a project to get Les Bleus back to their former abilities, with an unbeaten run stretching back for well over a year.
The French side will be without Yann M’Vila for this game, whilst Marseille marksman Loic Remy was also ruled out of the competition. Despite this, Les Bleus will field a strong side that has a slight Premier League feel to it. The likes of Laurent Koscielny, Patrice Evra, Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda and Yohan Cabaye are all thought to be ready to command first-team places, whilst Karim Benzema will be the side’s main attacking threat.
Ukraine vs Sweden
Last to play are co-hosts Ukraine and perennial tournament competitors Sweden, with the home side looking to start by giving their fans something to shout about.
Ukraine as hosts have not played any competitive fixtures in quite some time, and as such enter the tournament as one of the weakest sides involved. Coach Oleg Blokhin has openly admitted that his side are lacking real quality, and as such the hosts will look to tap into the crowd’s support to make it difficult for opponents.
The Ukrainians have suffered some confidence-shattering defeats in the lead-up to the competition, with even a defeat to Sweden in the recent memory. The side have a number of experienced campaigners such as Anatoliy Tymoschuk still in the mix, but the hosts will look to talented but untested youngsters such as Andriy Yarmolenko to provide a spark and get the ball rolling.
Sweden have improved over the last four years, and will certainly not be an easy opponent for anyone this summer. With a strong qualifying campaign under their belt, where they only lost to Netherlands, Erik Hamren’s men will go into the tournament with qualification from Group D firmly in mind.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic captains the side, and the nation’s fortunes may well be tied-in with the AC Milan forward’s form. Mercurial, talented and lethal, the Rossoneri hitman has the ability to single-handedly win a game, but also can be greedy and wasteful in possession. A breed of younger players are coming through the ranks to support Ibrahimovic, and Sweden will look to start with a win in their bid to make the knockout rounds.