How will Ukraine fare on home soil? Could Sweden spring a surprise? Are France back on track? And can England be the tournament’s surprise package?
The Coach: Oleh Blokhin
The 59 year old Ukrainian legend scored more goals for the Soviet Union than any other player and was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1975. His proudest moment as coach to date was to lead his country to the quarter-finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Key Player: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk
With 114 international appearances to his name, the FC Bayern Munich defensive midfielder is the Ukraine’s most capped player. At the age of 33 he remains a pivotal part of the set-up and relishes the task of breaking up the opposition’s play and dictating the midfield – so much so that he rarely ventures over the halfway line.
Ukraine’s strategy will be to sit deep, soak up opposition pressure and try to break on the counter-attack through their wingers, Yevhen Konoplyanka and the exciting Andriy Yarmolenko. Goalscoring duties will fall at the feet of the rejuvenated Andriy Shevchenko and his Dynamo Kyiv strike partner Artem Milevskiy. Oleksandr Kucher and Yaroslav Rakitskiy look like they will be Blokhin’s preferred central defensive partnership.
How Did They Qualify? Qualified directly as co-hosts of the tournament
Best European Championship Finals Performance: No previous participation as an independent nation
The Coach: Erik Hamrén
A highly respected coach in Scandinavia, he guided Aalborg BK into the UEFA Champions League Group Stages in the 2007-8 season and succeeded the long-serving Lars Lagerbäck in November 2009. The 54 year old is known to be an excellent motivator who is intent on playing expansive football.
Key Player: Zlatan IbrahimoviÄ‡
A player with undoubted skill and talent who splits pundits and fans alike. Sweden’s chances of progressing into the quarter-finals will largely rest on the shoulders of the enigmatic 30-year-old AC Milan striker. Erik Hamrén has decided that the captain’s best position in which to cause maximum damage is in behind the lone striker Johan Elmander.
Sweden’s strength lies in the midfield and striking departments where Erik Hamrén has plenty of attacking options at his disposal in the form of Sebastian Larsson, Rasmus Elm and Ola Toivonen. Despite having the experienced Olof Mellberg alongside Jonas Olsson in defence, it remains their weakest area, meaning greater responsibility for the two midfielders, Anders Svensson and Kim Källström, to shield their backline.
How Did They Qualify? Qualified as best runners-up having been runners-up in Euro 2012 Qualifying Group E
Best European Championship Finals Performance: Quarter-finals (2004)
The Coach: Laurent Blanc
Following the debacle at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the former Manchester United centre-back has restored some much needed pride and credibility to the National Team. He was a popular appointment having led Bordeaux to a Ligue 1 and Coupe de la Ligue double in 2009.
Key Player: Karim Benzema
The Real Madrid striker has an impressive 32 goals to his name this season. Tasked with the responsibility of spearheading the attack, the 24 year old with an accurate shot on him, will be strong and direct – elements which will crucial as he looks to bring in the likes of Samir Nasri and Frank Ribéry into the attack.
There’s no question that as an attacking force, France are up there with the best in Europe. The holding midfielders, Yann M’Vila and Yohan Cabaye, pick themselves whilst the attacking quartet are, to a certain extent, flexible. Defensively, question marks continue to hang over the central defensive partnership of Philip Mexès and Adil Rami who can be stretched by pace through the middle and especially out wide.
How Did They Qualify? Winners of Euro 2012 Qualifying Group D
Best European Championship Finals Performance: Winners (1984 and 2000)
The Coach: Roy Hodgson
A wealth of experience at domestic and international level, tactically disciplined and with a reputation for getting the best out of his players, the 64 year old has impressed pundits and fans alike in his first month in charge with his measured and refreshing approach to the job.
Key Player: Scott Parker
Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Young all provide an attacking threat but it is defensively where England will have to be wary. The hard-working midfielder’s ability to protect the ball, break down opposition attacks and, above all, win back possession for the team could make him an unsung hero for England at this year’s tournament.
Compact, well-organised and difficult to break down – this is Roy Hodgson’s England. His team won’t necessarily dominate possession and so will rely heavily on their ‘flair’ players to cause opposition defences problems. Winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the wild card whilst Andy Carroll will be a handful for defences with his aerial ability. Both full-backs will have to be disciplined and not over commit themselves in an attacking sense.
How Did They Qualify? Winners of Euro 2012 Qualifying Group G
Best European Championship Finals Performance: Semi-finals (1996)