Euro 2012: Predicting Every Game in Group D
Euro 2012 begins in only a few days, and today we're concluding our group previews with game-by-game predictions for Group D.
France and England are the big names, but Sweden and Ukraine will be looking to pull an upset or two.
The winner of Group D will play the Group C runner-up, with the Group D runner-up facing the Group C winner.
Spain and Italy are expected to advance in Group C, so whoever comes out of Group D will face a tough task immediately in the knockout stage.
First, though, France, England, Sweden and Ukraine must fight it out in group play.
France vs. England
Details: June 11, Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
This is the big one, and thankfully we won't have to wait long to watch it.
With superstar forward Wayne Rooney suspended for the first two group games, England will be determined to avoid defeat in their opener.
The problem is, France have plenty of firepower—and England's defense is an issue.
English defender Gary Cahill suffered a broken jaw in the Three Lions' win over Belgium on Saturday, and now John Terry will likely partner Phil Jagielka or Joleon Lescott in the middle of defense. No matter which combination manager Roy Hodgson chooses, it will be a mostly unproven one.
France, meanwhile, have a roster oozing talented attackers. Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, Hatem Ben Arfa, Samir Nasri and Olivier Giroud are only a few of the names that could give English defenders nightmares in the run-up to the match.
France's tense 3-2 comeback win over Iceland showed that Laurent Blanc's team has defensive issues of its own, but I think Blanc—himself a former defender—will have those sorted in time for England.
It's most likely that Hodgson and England will assume a defensive posture against France, hoping to soak up pressure and counter-attack if possible. Again, the primary aim is to avoid defeat.
But with the defense unsettled, I think the strategy will backfire. The England camp is full of distractions, and I think France will take advantage.
In fact, it could get ugly for England early.
Mike's pick: A poor start for England, complete with the requisite public panic. France 3-1 England
Ukraine vs. Sweden
Details: June 11, Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
Knowing the result of the France-England game at kickoff, both Ukraine and Sweden will view this as an opportunity.
Ukraine, moreover, will be brimming with patriotic spirit in the first match as co-hosts.
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian squad is short on quality. But on the bright side, the roster features six players from Shakhtar Donetsk and a whopping nine from Dynamo Kiev.
Clearly, these Ukrainian players know each other well, and they have a genuine—if aging—superstar in Andriy Shevchenko (pictured), himself one of the Dynamo Kiev nine, leading from the front.
Sweden, however, feature Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a tall, strong striker who's currently among the world's best at his position. If Ibra is on, Sweden should win.
If not, we might have an upset.
Mike's pick: Ibra will score, but Ukraine will ride the patriotic passion to a goal and a draw. Ukraine 1-1 Sweden.
Ukraine vs. France
Details: June 15, Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
The patriotic fervor won't matter here. France will have too much offense, though Ukraine will defend resolutely.
Look for Olivier Giroud (pictured) to make the breakthrough, possibly as a second-half substitute.
Mike's pick: A comfortable win for France, even if the score doesn't necessarily show it. Ukraine 0-2 France
Sweden vs. England
Details: June 15, Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
If England do indeed lose to France, this match will take on even more importance. A loss would all but end the Three Lions' hopes, but a win would put them right back into contention.
Manager Roy Hodgson will thus select a somewhat more attack-minded team to face Sweden, but I think the strategy will once again backfire.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pictured) will strike again for Sweden, putting England in a first-half hole. They will spend the rest of the match chasing a draw.
Mike's pick: Ashley Young scores a late equalizer, saving England's tournament life. Sweden 1-1 England
England vs. Ukraine
Details: June 19, Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
England will feel immense pressure heading into their final group match, but with Wayne Rooney returning from suspension, the Three Lions will fancy their chances.
With Sweden facing France—who will have already qualified for the knockout stages—England would need nothing less than a win to advance.
With Rooney running the show, I think they'll get it.
Mike's pick: Admittedly, this is a flip-flop on my part. But I think Rooney's return will make the difference for England. Just. England 2-1 Ukraine
Sweden vs. France
Details: June 19, Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
Having already qualified for the knockout stage, France will not have much to play for in this match. But that doesn't mean they'll roll over for Sweden.
Coach Laurent Blanc (pictured) will probably use the chance to blood some of his fringe players, so Sweden should have opportunities to score, especially early.
I like Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score again, giving Sweden an early 1-0 lead. But I think France will equalize in the second half.
Mike's pick: France, believe it or not, will help England advance to the quarterfinals. Sweden 1-1 France
Based on my predictions, France would advance as winners of Group D with seven points.
England would advance as runners-up, despite their opening loss to France, with four points.
Sweden would narrowly miss qualification with three points from three draws.
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So, readers, what are your predictions? Can England advance without Wayne Rooney?
Leave me your predictions in the comments below.