Thursday, 14 June 2012

Italy v Croatia: Group C preview


 Having lost their last three international friendlies and gone to Eastern Europe with a cloud of alleged match fixing hanging over them; many dismissed the Italians before the start of the tournament. But having earned a 1-1 draw with World Champions Spain, the Azzurri will draw a lot of confidence heading into this encounter. Cesare Prandelli took a risk by playing a 3-5-2 formation against the Spanish, which paid off by providing a solid foundation for a number of swift counter-attacks. The Italian defence looked superb, only to be undone by a neat finish by Cesc Fabregas in the second half.
Croatia head into this clash as leaders of the group, after dismissing the Republic of Ireland by a scoreline of 3-1. Mario Mandzukic grabbed two goals, while Nikica Jelavic continued his scintillating form at club level by scoring the other. The clean sheet was marred by Vedran Corluka allowing Sean St Ledger to nod home an inswinging free-kick at the far post. Despite this, the Croatian defence did not allow the Irish to have too many shots on goal.

Team News

Slaven Bilic is expected to keep the same starting XI that started against the Republic of Ireland, with Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic providing firepower up front.
With the Croatians likely to field a 4-4-2, Italy could look to keep their 3-5-2 formation in order to have an extra man covering the two Croatian strikers. Mario Balotelli could look set to lose his place in the starting line-up after being substituted against Spain. His replacement, Antonio Di Natale, scored upon arrival on the field.

Key Battle

Croatia were able to retain the ball very well in midfield against Ireland, but will find it more difficult against the opposition central midfield three. As far as Italy are concerned, they want to stop Modric from spreading the play out wide to their wingers – Rakitic and Perisic. The Latter got forward well in the last game, and had some very good efforts on goal. Marchisio and Motta will look to nullify Modric, enabling Pirlo to have more time on the ball to influence play going forward. I think that possesion will be rather even in this encounter, with Italy will looking to deny Croatia space in the final third. Modric will be in for a long night, but English-based players are used to being targeted in big games like this.

Probable Line-ups

Italy: Buffon, Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini, Maggio, Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, Giaccherini, Cassano, Di Natale

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Vukojevic, Rakitic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic, Jelavic

Municipal Stadium, Poznan
Kick-off: 5PM on BBC1 & BBC1 HD
Referee: Howard Webb (England)

Like two rams clashing horns, Italy’s fabled defence meets a potent attacking team in Croatia. I think both teams will score in this encounter, but with Italy’s experience in International competitions reigning supreme. Watch out for the ability of Vedran Corluka to handle the two Italian strikers in an unfamiliar centre-back role.

Italy to win 2-1

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Netherlands v Germany: Group B Preview

Tomorrow sees the latest instalment in one of the greatest rivalries in international football, involving two neighbouring teams bestowed in a history. On paper, Germany had the harder of the two opening games – yet they are the ones that go into this game with three points under their belt. Meanwhile, a dominant Dutch side could not find the net against a determined and organised Denmark side that came out 1-0 winners. This match, then, is crucial for the hopes of the Dutch. Lose against their bitter rivals, and they may depart Ukraine at the first stage.

Team News

Germany has no new injury concerns following their first game. After a tense first half with Portugal, Mario Gomez scored the only goal of the game late into the second half to give the Germans their first win of the tournament. Coach Joachim Low may see no reason to make any major changes to the team, as they look to grab another win and qualify for the quarter-finals. Centre-back Mats Hummels is expected to keep his place in the starting line-up over Per Mertesacker.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk will have to decide whether or not to make a change to the side that lost to Denmark, despite playing so well. The unimpressive Ibrahim Afellay could head out of the starting line-up to be replaced by the top scorer in qualifying, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. There have been reports of a rift between Huntelaar and van Marwijk, which ultimately led to the striker failing to speak to the domestic press on Monday. A striker with a point to prove can be a very dangerous weapon. Should this switch happen, then Robin van Persie could move into midfield to accompany the talismanic Wesley Sneijder and tricky winger Arjen Robben. Joris Matijsen has resumed full training and could replace Ron Vlaar, depending on his fitness.

Key Battle

Arjen Robben did not have the best of games against Denmark, with his shooting accuracy and decision-making being uncharacteristically poor. Up against the winger will be Germany’s captain, Philipp Lahm. The left-back had a typically solid display in the first game, defending his side of the pitch well while supporting German attacks up field. Robben will look to cut inside and either shoot towards goal or pass to a teammate in a better position. Being a right-footed played, Robben’s dribbles towards the centre of the pitch will play into Lahm’s hands. I expect the Flying Dutchman to struggle in tomorrow’s game.

Netherlands: Stekelenberg, van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Willems, de Jong, van Bommel, Robben, Sneijder, van Persie, Huntelaar

Germany: Neuer, Boateng, Badstuber, Hummels, Lahm, Khedira, Schweinsteiger,  Ozil, Muller, Podolski, Gomez

Metlist Stadium, Kharkiv
Kick-off: 7.45PM on BBC1 & BBC1 HD

Prediction

The Dutch need to win here in order to keep their tournament hopes alive. With a victory already underneath their belts, the Germans know that they can play a more defensive game should they grab the opening goal.

1-1 draw

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Italy v Spain: Preview


Another major tournament, another heap of pressure placed on the shoulders of this talented Spain squad. Just like all previous winners, they try to become the first side to defend the European Championships. Not just this, but they try to complete the treble of major international wins after a dramatic extra time win in the World Cup final two years ago. The last European team to have two major international wins under their belt going into another tournament were France, who famously failed to make it out of the group stages in the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea. Complacency, then, is a major issue for Vicente Del Bosque’s men. Many slogans have adorned the side of their training camp in order to make sure they’re fully focused on the task in hand. ‘History doesn’t stop the rival, concentration does,’ is one of them. Much talk going into these European Championships was the strength of the German squad, and La Roja has seemingly been lowered in the pecking order for the crown. With the first team encompassing a large amount of players from the imperious F.C. Barcelona side, the failings of the Catalans this season may have relieved some pressure on the national team. Despite this, Germany went about their business yesterday with a 1-0 win against Portugal. It was not the most solid of displays, but the final result will please Joachim Low’s side in what is a difficult group.

Today the Spanish face the last side to win a major international tournament in the European circle; Italy. The win in 2006 was overshadowed by the Calciopoli scandal, which led to the relegation of Juventus to Serie B and points deductions for a number of other teams. Six years on and the national team head into Poland/Ukraine with another scandal looming over their heads. Allegations have been levelled at high figures such as Lazio captain Stefano Mauri and Juventus head coach Antonio Conte for fixing matches (who led his side to the Serie A title while going undefeated). Italy, therefore, have a point to prove. Gerard Pique feels the same way: “It seems Italy have been destabilised and have their heads elsewhere. But those are the circumstances in which they are at their strongest,’ proclaimed the centre-back.

Team News

Andrea Barzagli is set to miss the first game with a calf problem, as Italy’s medical team assesses the best course of action for the player. It is likely that Daniele De Rossi will move into an unfamiliar role in the centre of defence, as part of a five man defensive unit. Italy will most likely start with the starting central midfielders from Juventus – Thiago Motta, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
Spain are missing two lynchpins of their World Cup win in Johannesberg; Carles Puyol and David Villa. Those two experienced heads will be missing throughout the whole tournament, but strength in depth will ensure that they can be replaced adequately. The only doubt for the reigning Champions will be up front, where either Fernando Torres or Alvaro Negredo will start. The Chelsea man may prove a potent attacking threat off the bench, and as a result will play a key role in this year’s tournament just like Cesc Fabregas did in South Africa.

Key Battle

As usual with this Spanish team, the key area of focus will be the midfield. The midfield five are among some of the best passers in the world. Spain will be looking to feed the ball to their best players as much as possible, and get the likes of David Silva and Andres Iniesta involved as high up the pitch as possible. The job of containing such players is placed upon the Juventus trio of Motta, Pirlo and Marchisio who helped shield their club team’s defence - leading to only 20 goals conceded in 38 league games this season. Naturally, the Spanish will lead the possession stats. The Italians will look to defend in numbers and launch quick counter-attacks to their raiding wing-backs – Gianccherini (who could earn his first Azzurri cap) and Maggio.

Probably Line-ups

Italy: Buffon, Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini, Maggio, Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, Giaccherini, Cassano, Balotelli
Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, J. Alba, Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Negredo

PGE Arena, Gdansk
Kick-off: 5PM on ITV1

With Italy looking likely to try to contain Spain’s midfield, this one could be a low scoring affair. Spain to win 1-0.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Germany v Portugal: Preview


Tonight is our first taste of the fabled ‘Group of Death’ – and this, a fiery encounter between two very talented sides. Such groups with three powerhouses usually earn the notorious tag and, as a result, one of the respective teams is at risk from an early tournament exit despite such high expectations. Unless you’re Alan Hansen, who recently made the blunder of predicting that Germany, Holland and Portugal would make it out of Group B. Although form from previous tournaments is nothing to go by on the night, Germany beat Portugal by a scoreline of 3-2 in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008.

Road to Poland/Ukraine

Germany arrives in Ukraine off the back of a flawless qualification campaign, in which they recorded ten wins in ten games; during which, they scored 34 goals and only conceded 7. As a result, Joachim Low’s men are many people’s favourites to lift the trophy on the 1st July.
Portugal struggled in their qualification campaign, finishing second behind Denmark in Group H (with two losses in the process) and having to endure a play-off against Bosnia and Herzegovina to earn a trip to Poland/Ukraine. After undergoing a poor start, Carlos Queiroz was relieved of his duties, which saw Paulo Bento come in to give the team the belief to reach the play-off stage. Having travelled east to Zenica and coming away with a 0-0 draw, the Portugese played the 2nd leg in Lisbon and delighted the home crowd with a 6-2 win.

Team News

The Germans have a fresh squad going into their first match, now that Arsenal centre-back Per Mertesacker has recovered from an injury which he picked up in training.
The only concern for the Portugese is the fitness of Manchester United winger Luis Nani, who is suffering from a problem in his right foot. Bento could place him on the bench so that he is fully fit for the remaining group fixtures, and potentially a run into the knockout stages.

Threats

Germany has two top strikers to choose from, in the experienced Miroslav Klose and the perennial tap-in maestro – Mario Gomez. Klose was the second-highest goalscorer in qualifying, with nine goals to his name. With the bulk of their first team coming from the Bayern Munich side that narrowly lost the Champions League final to Chelsea, the Germans are certainly a tightly knit unit. Once you add the flair of Mesut Ozil and re-assurance of Manuel Neuer into the equation, you can see why they are a force to be reckoned with.

Portugal also has a very strong starting team. The central defence partnership of Pepe and Bruno Alves will prove very hard to break down. In front of them will most likely be a midfield three of Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho; a combination of slick passers. The main threat will obviously come from arguably the finest player in the world – Cristiano Ronaldo. After scoring 46 goals in 38 games on his way to earning a La Liga  winners’ medal for Real Madrid, the defensive unit of Germany will have to work very hard in order to nullify his incredible combination of skill, pace and power.

Probable Line-ups

Germany: Neuer, Boateng, Badstuber, Mertesacker, Lahm, Khedira, Schweinsteiger,  Ozil, Muller, Podolski, Klose
Portugal: Patricio, Pereira, Pepe, B. Alves, Coentrao, M. Veloso, Meireles, Moutinho, Quaresma, C. Ronaldo, Postiga

Arena Lviv, Lviv
Kick-off: 7.45PM on BBC1

Both teams will display very solid starting line-ups, and may not be at their best so early in the campaign – so I’m going for a 1-1 draw

Netherlands v Denmark: Preview


The Netherlands are looking to get back into the swing of major tournament football after some of their black players were subjected to racial abuse at the hands of a minority of spectators during their training session at Wisla Krakow’s Miejski Stadium on Wednesday. Coming off the back of an outstanding qualification campaign (of which they only lost one game), the Clockwork Orange are confident of making a deep run in this year’s campaign. Of course, in the last World Cup in South Africa they did just that, knocking over some big teams on their way to the final (against Spain) in Johannesburg. That infamous final marred the image of the team, sparking comments from former greats such as Johan Cruyff claiming that the performance was a disgrace to the extraordinary legacy of Dutch football.

Their opponents for today’s clash are Denmark, who themselves only succumbed to a single defeat in qualification for this tournament. Coach Morten Olsen is, understandably, envious of the options Bert Van Marwijk has at his disposal. “We can say we are a little jealous of the Dutch team, that we are not in their shoes. They are the favourites. There is no doubt about that,” he said. The European Championships bring back good memories for the Danes, having won the tournament two decades ago; in 1992 (despite only having gained access due to the withdrawal of the Yugoslav team). Incidentally, their semi-final shootout victory against the hotly favoured Dutch was their only success over them since 1967.

Team News

Both teams have minor injury concerns prior to their first encounter of the tournament. Joris Mathijsen is ruled out with a hamstring injury, with Wilfred Bouma likely to come in and partner John Heitinga in the centre of defence. Denmark look unlikely to feature midfielder Niki Zimling, after he was taken away by an ambulance during a training session on Friday. Christain Poulsen looks set to replace him in the centre of midfield.

Threats

The Netherlands boast an embarrassment of riches in attack, having both the Premier League’s top goalscorer and the leading marksman for the qualification phase of this tournament. But both Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will find it hard to score against a Denmark team which only conceded 6 goals in 8 qualifying matches, helped by the talented Daniel Agger at the heart of the defence. The Dutch are notorious for operating a single striker in attack, so either of these dangermen could end up on the bench. Another option for van Marwijk could be for van Persie to start amongst of the attacking midfield three, a position of which he is used from earlier in his career.

Denmark have two established Premier League players - Daniel Agger and Nicklas Bendtner. Most eyes will be on Christian Eriksen, who plays as an attacking midfield for Dutch outfit Ajax. Many scouts will know his game inside out, such is the attention being played to this young player. Tonight is his chance to display his skills to a wider audience; the questionable Dutch defence could be in for a long night.

Probable Line-ups

Netherlands: Stekelenberg, van der Wiel, Heitinga, Bouma, Willems, van Bommel, de Jong, Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt, van Persie
Denmark: Andersen, Jacobsen, Agger, Kjaer, S.Poulsen, C.Poulsen, Eriksen, Kvist, Rommedahl, Bendtner, Kahlenberg


Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv.
Kick-off: 5PM on BBC1


The Netherlands to win 2-0