So it turns out Ireland are as bad as we thought. Despite having a penalty turned down, conceding three weak goals will never do you well in tournament football. Keith Andrews was on a mission to have his shot heatmap completely outline the goal and Shay Given was left with cocaine egg on his face after a diving header.
Elsewhere the scene was completely different. Spain and Italy both tried to outdo each other in the wacky formation stakes, la Roja with a fluid 4-6 and the Azzurri with a 3-5-2 in which Daniele De Rossi played in Fabio Cannavaro’s heralded sweeper role (and well). Italy put up a surprisingly good fight, going in the best team in the first half. But eventually it was a game of missed chances; Mario Balotelli momentarily forgot who he was and what he was doing through on goal, and Fernando Torres Torresed several chances in a variety of disappointing ways.
Today it’s a little team called ENGERLAAANDD
England – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not sure about the kid. Barely half a season for Arsenal which proved exciting but not fruitful, his call-up has the hallmarks of Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup. But I’ve just heard he’s starting against France so let’s look at the facts: He has the fearlessness of youth, he won’t ruin his career by failing, he has had a better season than Stuart Downing but many less games, he can’t play 90 minutes.
All in all the pros outweigh the cons and as Mark Lawrenson put it “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” The big tinderbox of attacking talent (Gerrard, Young, Welbeck) are there, maybe ‘the Ox’ is the one who can light the fuse. Let’s just hope we don’t give up after 50 mins and Scott Parker doesn’t get stuck doing that thing where he just jogs with the ball in a small 360.
Prediction: Three lions on a shirt/Jules Rimet still gleaming/Fourty-Six years of hurt/Never stopped me dreamin’
France – Karim Benzema
The Real Madrid hitman has been in incredible form this season with 32 goals and 15 assists. Mourinho has stuck with him and reaped the rewards, watching him grown into a dynamic and capable striker. Good acceleration, intelligent and pressing movement, and a completely lethal finish. Of course that is with Real’s backing but the likes of Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda, Samir Nasri, and even Hartem Ben Arfa are good but have had fluctuating form. In essence I think the only way to nullify him is to let his team do it for us.
Prediction: Very strong contenders, haven’t been in the habit of losing lately, doubt they’ll start now.
Ukraine – Andriy Yarmolenko
A 22 year old attacker from Dynamo Kiev fits the bill for Ukraine’s most promising player. No it isn’t and won’t ever be Andriy Shevchenko again. Having only seen this player play once I can only describe what I saw; a skillful player with a good left foot, who is comfortable on either wing and isn’t shy of a shot.
Prediction: Might put in a good shift being at home but aren’t cultured enough yet, won’t get through.
Sweden – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
‘But I’ve never seen him play well’ you say annoyingly, that’s because you’re English I assume.
Yeah, doesn’t play when we’re watching, not against our country or our teams in Europe. But there’s a reason he’s won at least the league title with every club he’s been at. If you managed to tune into any Milano games this season you would have seen just how unplayable he can be. Huge strength in the air and downwards, powerful shot, and great passer, but not against us right? Well the Zlatan says this is the time he is going to show English fans what he is all about.
Prediction: If the good players play well they could push England and France into a stumble and squeeze through.