Euro 2012 - Greetings from Kiev
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
As Round 2 of Euro 2012 Group Stage action comes to a close, our blog correspondent Adam Hurrey finds himself in Kiev getting set for tonight's England vs Sweden match.
Greetings from Kiev, with its gold-domed skyline, towering monuments and laissez-faire approach to customer service...
A quick metro hop across the Dnieper River (a journey prolonged only by the seemingly never-ending escalator to street-level) took us straight to the Kiev Fan Zone. UEFA have commandeered the entire length of the neo-classical Khreshchatyk Street, where a sea of Ukrainian yellow is expected when the national side take on France in tonight’s first game.
Last night’s action saw the Republic of Ireland become the first team to be eliminated from Euro 2012, after a 4-0 defeat to a cruise-control Spain. The Irish central-midfield pairing of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews unsurprisingly found Xavi and Iniesta a rather formidable challenge, and their fate was perhaps sealed as early as the fourth minute, when Fernando Torres smashed a finish past Shay Given.
With Spain inevitably dominating possession, the procession finally reaped a second goal shortly after half-time, when David Silva stroked the ball home with alarming training-ground ease. The Irish fans remained in fine voice in Gdansk but their side had no answer to the reigning champions, who added further goals through Torres and substitute Cesc Fabregas.
Elsewhere in Group C, Croatia salvaged a vital point against an unconvincing Italy, thanks to Mario Mandzukic's third goal of the tournament. The Italians had taken the lead with a fine free-kick from Andrea Pirlo just before half-time, but Mandzukic’s leveller set-up the group for a fascinating climax on Monday. Italy must beat the pride-chasing Irish to have any chance of progressing.
England v Sweden – Kiev
The stunning Olympic Stadium will host England’s second Group D match against Sweden. Over 20,000 Swedes are expected, comfortably outnumbering (and proudly out singing) the modest band of English followers.
Sweden’s struggles in their defeat to co-hosts Ukraine, where Andriy Shevchenko twice eluded his marker to score with a header, has clearly given England coach Roy Hodgson food for thought. Reports suggest that Andy Carroll will be unleashed this evening, with the electric Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the bench. Carroll is available at 7/1 with Betfair to open the scoring tonight, with Sweden’s Olof Mellberg handed the unenviable task of dealing with him. England’s midfield engine room of Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker have recovered from their considerable exertions against France, and will look to provide cover to grant Ashley Young and James Milner licence to get forward and provide ammunition for Carroll, a strategy given particular focus in England’s final training session in the Olympic Stadium yesterday. A veritable aerial bombardment is in store.
For an enigmatic opinion-divider who goes missing in big matches, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal record is formidable. 28 goals in Serie A for Milan this season saw the Swedish skipper claim the Capocannoniere award and, with 32 goals for the national team, he remains the biggest threat to England. He can be backed at 11/4 to find the net tonight. Ibrahimovic reacted angrily to his side’s lacklustre showing against Ukraine, questioning his teammates' attitude in defeat. The Swedes will need him to lead from the front if they are to breach Hodgson’s solid defensive set-up, but England goalkeeper Joe Hart is 9/5 to keep a clean sheet.
Sweden have often proved to be a tough nut for England to crack, remaining unbeaten in eight attempts in competitive fixtures. Six of those ended in draws, and that can be backed at 12/5. The two teams are 10/1 to provide the first 0-0 draw of a dramatic tournament.
Swedish Fan’s View – Kiev – Andrea Ingesson
“We’re not too worried about Andy Carroll and our problems with set-pieces have been exaggerated. We’ve brought alot of support to Kiev and we need a win tonight. Rasmus Elm is the key player for us tonight – he used to play for my team Kalmar – and Zlatan cannot do it on his own. I think Mellberg will know what to expect from Carroll.”
English Fan’s View – Kiev – Paul Stretton
“I’m no fan of Andy Carroll, frankly, but I think two strikers is the way to go. Sweden looked very shaky against Ukraine and, if Shevchenko can get the run on their defence, anyone can! Set-pieces are the key – it won’t be pretty, but I think we’ll do it.”
The first game of the evening sees Ukraine face France, with plenty of Kievians likely to pack out the Fan Zone. Lifted by their victory over Sweden in the opening game and the reminder of Shevchenko's goalscoring prowess, the co-hosts will hope to host England in Donetsk next Tuesday with a real chance of making the quarter-finals. Oleh Blokhin’s men are 12/5 to take a point from the French.
A fascinating evening of football is in store in the Ukrainian capital. The Olympic Stadium, a short walk from the centre of the city, is likely to be dominated by yellow and blue and - on the evidence of Khreshchatyk Street last night – the Swedes won’t struggle to make themselves heard.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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Right there, you say Ibrahimovic is "missing in big matches". I was discussing with my brother while watching the game (not really caring much about the result) and we both got to the conclusion that... well, Sweden was using Zlatan the way Barça used it, and it didn't work that time so why try again? The other conclusion was that neither Cristiano Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic are keeping up to expectations. But then again, I've never liked Ronaldo... Keep the posts coming, and make sure you drink at least one bear with a fan from each team, or you wouldn't be a worthy embassor.... haha