7.45pm BBC 1
THERE was a collective sigh of relief around the country when England managed to take a point from their opening group game against France. It was a solid, if unspectacular, start for Roy Hodgson’s men, but the new manager will be feeling confident his side can take three points against Sweden in Kiev this evening.
It was all looking good for the Swedes when Zlatan Ibrahimovic fired them into a 52nd-minute lead against co-hosts Ukraine on Monday night. That was until Andriy Shevchenko notched a quick double, meaning Sweden now need at least a point against England to hold any real chance of progressing to the knockout stage.
As regular readers already know, I’m more than happy to oppose England at this tournament and, although they surprised me against France, I think they will find it tough this evening. Sweden have never been beaten by England in seven competitive matches and it could actually be to England’s disadvantage that the Scandinavians lost to Ukraine.
I thought Hodgson organised his team very well against the French and they did look solid at the back. John Terry and Ashley Cole are world-class defenders and Ibrahimovic will have his work cut out to unsettle them. However, I’m worried about England up front until suspended striker Wayne Rooney steps back into the fray against Ukraine next week.
Danny Welbeck has had a strong season for Manchester United, and is certainly very promising for the future, but I’m not sure he’s quite up to this level just yet. Overall, Andy Carroll has had a poor campaign for Liverpool and, for me, Jermain Defoe isn’t really top class. Ashley Young looked dangerous against France and he could pose problems for Sweden, while James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have the potential to make an impact.
Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly Sweden’s star man and the rest of the team doesn’t look especially strong on paper. However, that is regularly the case and they have consistently proved incredibly difficult to beat at major tournaments.
England can be backed at 11/10 with Coral and that looks too short. A win isn’t exactly essential for Hodgson’s side and I think there is a good chance of them drawing again. The last two competitive meetings between the nations have both been draws and a repeat of that is worth backing at 11/5 with Coral, who will refund losing bets if the final goal is scored directly from a penalty.
The 1-1 scoreline has been the most common result so far during the tournament and a repeat of England’s opening result is fancied at 6/1. Spread bettors are advised to sell total goals at 2.25 with Sporting Index.
5.00PM ITV 1
IT seems a long time ago that a calamitous France side landed in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, torn apart by internal divisions and managed by a man no-one in France wanted for the job. Raymond Domenech’s charges were sent home in humiliation, finishing bottom of their group and shaming the reputation of a nation that had dominated world football just over a decade earlier.
Domenech’s successor, Laurent Blanc, has brought back stability and tranquility to the side and facing England on the back of a 21-match unbeaten run, the French were perhaps disappointed to have left Donetsk without all three points. They still showed enough in the 1-1 draw to be clipped into 8/1 for the tournament and with players of the calibre of Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery they surely should have enough to see off a dogged Ukraine team.
Ukraine have never beaten France in six previous fixtures, with Les Bleus winning three and the other half ending in draws. The co-hosts had looked unlikely winners against Sweden at one stage, falling behind to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal, before their talisman Andriy Shevchenko rolled back the years with a quick-fire brace to put the Ukrainians in pole position of Group D. Unfortunately, their reliance on the 35-year old striker, plagued by injury niggles, hardly stands them in good stead when we compare with France’s attacking talent.
France know only too well the value of partisan support having triumphed in the World Cup on home soil back in 1998 and we should expect this to be a testing assignment for them back in Donetsk. However, for a country touted as potential Euro 2012 winners, Blanc’s boys should be backed to beat their rivals this evening. With the exception of France’s 4-1 friendly win last year, no team has managed to find the net more than twice in clashes between the two and a French 2-1 victory appeals at Coral’s best price 9/1.