Group D is probably the easiest group to judge, although nothing is guaranteed. France and England are world powers both traditionally and when compared to Sweden and Ukraine. If all is right in the soccer universe, the Three Lions and Les Bleus will both be marching forward to the knockout stage.
Group D (in predicted order of finish):
France can win the tournament. Call it a ludicrous statement, but they are young, athletic, deep and hungry to prove themselves after their countrymen embarrassed themselves in South Africa. Other than Frank Ribery, Patrice Evra and Hugo Lloris in net, this is not your typical French national team. Led by Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri, Adil Rami, this new-look squad likes to attack on offense and be active on defense, always looking for that opportunity to attack in transition. With an offense of quick goal scorers and an experienced backline, don’t be surprised if France not only wins the group, but makes a serious run at the crown.
Coming into this tournament, England had as good a shot as anyone to win it all. However, recent key injuries to Frank Lampard and Gary Cahill, along with ongoing John Terry drama and a major coaching change have become distractions for the Three Lions. Talent has never been the question for England: with offensive players like Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and a wealth of others, they have the ability to score goals. With a defense anchored by Joe Hart in net and Terry in the middle and a midfield that includes Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker and James Milner, England is more than capable of making a deep run in the Euro. But then again, it has never been a physical problem with them, it’s been mental. No matter how much talent England has, they have fallen on their face at every major tournament in recent memory. Other than perhaps Germany, there may be no clear favorite to roll over everyone; if England wants to make a push and bring some pride back to the badge on their shirts, this is the tournament in which to do it.
Sweden is a one-trick pony, but that pony could carry them into the knockout stage if France or England takes them lightly. That pony is Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Serie A scoring champion. With the ability to score almost at will, defenses will have to cut off the supply chain to him. If they do that, Sweden will be making a quick exit because who knows where other goals will come from, especially against talents like France and England. Despite some good play of late, Sweden will be out-classed by the two top teams in the group this time around.
Unfortunately for co-host Ukraine, they were put in a group with two world powers. Playing at home, they could easily muster up enough to beat Sweden, but it would take a heavy collapse from France and England for them to advance past the group stage. Ukraine is led by journeyman Andrei Shevchenko, who is always a threat to score, but with not much help around him, the goal will be to grab some points and maybe ruin someone else’s tournament.
Players to watch:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, ST, Sweden
Everyone in Group D better mark him and mark him closely. Don’t think that just because he gets the ball on the wing he won’t make you miss, because he will. Ibrah is one of the most talented players in this tournament and if he nets early on, expect Sweden to go in a shell and try to grab a 1-0 result. This is the type of threat Ibrah brings to a game; he could change the balance of the group and single-handedly send France or England home. My guess is that teams will cut him off, but who knows if that will be enough.
Wayne Rooney, ST, England
Let’s be real, Rooney didn’t show up for World Cup 2010. He was ineffective and at times you found yourself wondering if he was on the pitch. Suspended for the first two games of the tournament, England will have to survive without him, then thrive with him when he gets back. England has enough talent to at least win the Sweden and Ukraine games, which should advance them even with a loss to France. Once Rooney is available, however, England will need him to be in form if they plan on taking the crown, as he means that much. Although England should not struggle to score, they do, and Rooney needs to find the back of the net if the Three Lions are planning on going anywhere other than home.