Thursday, 21 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Reviews and Predictions

TN5 give their view on the group games and the quarter finals 

The group games are completed and we’re into the knock out stages. Who has impressed so far, who will go on to win, and how did TN5’s group stage predictions go?

Group Predictions

A mixed bag in terms of TN5’s group-stage predictions. We got Group A completely wrong! We never saw Greece beating Russia and we fancied Poland to edge out the Czech’s. The shock of the tournament saw Greece going through against a fancied Russia, and Poland’s worst display of the campaign saw them offer very little against a limited Czech Republic. Both teams are going to really struggle against their quarter final opponents, after qualifying from without doubt the lowest quality group in the tournament.

In Group B the much fancied Germany eased through as predicted, but it was Portugal not Netherlands who joined them. The Dutch were the biggest disappointment of the tournament and Ronaldo came good just at the right time to take Portugal through at the expense of an unlucky Denmark. Both teams will be expected to reach the semis and perhaps meet again in the final.

Spain dominated Group C as expected, however they looked limited in attacking options (which may sound strange considering they have scored more than anyone). Italy performed well in all their three games and justifiably join Spain as predicted by TN5. Croatia had their chances and were unlucky to go out, but I’m afraid Ireland were the poorest side in the competition. Spain and Italy face cracking quarter finals against their Group D opponents.

And finally, England surpassed all expectations to take Group D, with France joining them as per TN5’s prediction. Both had their moments, but also showed their limitations as they edged out Sweden and Ukraine. It may depend on which version of the teams turn up for the quarter finals as to whether they will progress.

The Quarter Finals

Czech Republic V Portugal

The Czech’s have recovered well since their opening-day mauling by Russia. However, it took two early gifts from Greece, and an inept performance from Poland to hand them top spot in Group A. Portugal on the other hand have shown their attacking prowess against both Denmark and Netherlands. It’s difficult to see how they won’t have too much for the Czech’s.

With Spain waiting for them in the semi final, don’t be surprised if Portugal stifle Spain’s ‘tippy tappy’ football and hit them hard on the counter to book a place in the final.

Germany V Greece

Greece scraped through against the odds and have gone as far as they are likely to get. They would be underdogs against any of the quarter finalists, but the fact they are playing the best team in the competition in Germany means this is the end of their Euro 2012 road.

Germany will follow up this victory with a semi final win against England, (meeting Portugal in the final), and will lift their first major trophy since 1996.

Spain V France

Still many peoples’ favourites, Spain continue to dominate the ball in every game they play. However, the cutting edge of previous campaigns is not there and it will be a lack of goals that will ultimately cost them. Torres is not the answer, but they will persist with him if they use any forwards at all.

France had the better of their game against England and were impressive against Ukraine, but the Sweden game showed their vulnerability. With Cabaye missing they lacked the link player they so desperately need and even if he returns they won’t have the fluidity or defensive strength to overcome Spain.

After edging past France, Spain’s luck will run out as they hit a brick wall against Portugal, missing out on becoming the first team to win three major tournaments in a row.

Italy V England

We believe England would have had a better chance of qualifying against Spain, hitting them on the counter attack. Against Italy, it’s pretty much two very similar teams. Defensively fairly solid, a pass master in midfield (Gerrard/Pirlo) with hard work and the occasional showing of brilliance from the supporting cast. This is the closest of the quarter finals to call and therefore, as it’s England, we will go for the Three Lions to match their best ever Euro performance and reach the semi-finals.

However once there, a superior Germany will be too much for us, but it will be a gallant failure like Itailia ’90 and Euro ’96 once more, rather than the poor recent tournament showings.

So there you have it, Portugal and Germany meeting again in the final with Germany champions of Euro 2012.    

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A WAG's Eye View of Euro 2012

Mrs Tnfive changes her tune

Euro 2012 - an event that I have dreaded with a passion. Well, what was there to look forward to? Night after night of ‘boring football’ taking over the TV. Long lonely evenings spent contemplating my navel whilst listening to my dear husband’s shouts of ‘Get in!!!!!’ and ‘That’s clearly off-side!’ coming from the living room. To be frank, I thought I would rather pull my toenails out one by one with a pair of rusty pliers than subject myself to this utter Euro tosh. However, for some unknown reason I couldn’t shake off this niggling feeling inside me, this little voice in my head that kept saying ‘Go on! Give it a go. You never know, you might actually enjoy it!’ Well, who am I to ignore the call to the beautiful game? If nothing else I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. So, I took a deep breath and took the plunge into Euro 2012. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Ok, I admit. I did have a beer or two during that first nail-biting game between Greece and Poland which probably helped to fuel my enthusiasm, and pushed me to shout at the telly every time the ref got his red card out. But, beer or no beer by the time the first match was over I was finding myself thinking ‘Mmm. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I’ll watch the next one?’

A couple of games in and enter Cristiano Ronaldo. Now for some reason this guy is a bit like Marmite – you either love him or loathe him. He appears to have a huge army of female fans but the jury’s still out as far as this female is concerned.  I have to say, the bloke is good-looking but aside from the fact that he looked like he’d had a swim in a vat of chip fat before that first game, his change of hairstyle at half time seriously put me off. Sorry Ron, but you’ll be relieved to hear that I won’t be joining your fan club or sending you marriage proposals any time soon. (‘I should think not!’ says ‘him indoors’). Any footballer that spends his 15 minutes off restyling his barnet instead of sucking on a piece of orange is just not for me.

Anyway, I digress. By the time the first England match rolled around, I was seriously getting into this football lark. I had ‘tweeted’ and posted on Facebook, joined in discussions about Ron’s fancy step-overs and I’d even hung a string of St George flags from my Juliette balcony. ‘Quite a change’ I hear you cry. I hadn’t been this interested in football since Italia ’90 when I only tuned in to gawp at Gary Lineker’s legs!

So, as I write I am watching the England v Ukraine game (yes you read that right. I’m a woman, I can multi-task!) and there is more than just a teensy weensy bit of me that desperately wants Rooney to score a hat trick. I am shouting at the TV as Tymoshchuk fouls Scott Parker, tweeting and facebooking about Ukraine’s poor luck on that ball crossing the line, getting that heart-sinking feeling when Shevchenko comes on (please don’t score again!) and laughing at Blokhin’s over enthusiastic hand gestures.

I am happy. Very happy. At last I feel as though I know something about football and after 11 years of marriage I finally understand my husband’s passion for the game. I have you to thank for that. Yes you – Euro 2012.

And…………………………………I think I might even (just maybe!) understand the off-side rule!!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Euro 2012 Update

TN5 give their view after the second round of group games

We are well and truly into Euro 2012 now and all but Ireland have one last chance to secure qualification for the last 8. Who will make it and is TN5’s pre-tournament verdict likely to be accurate?

Group A

A wide-open group in which any of the teams can still qualify – or go out. Russia have certainly been the most impressive to date having emerged as outside contenders for the title. A draw against Poland put their qualification on ice, but they should have no trouble seeing off Greece to secure their last 8 place.

Poland have impressed in both games, with some fine attacking football and a real star in the making in Lewandowski. However, two draws mean they go into a shoot out with the Czech Republic knowing only a win is good enough to progress. The Czech’s looked poor against Russia in the opener, and were gifted two early goals against Greece. They’ll be looking to hang on for a draw against Poland to sneak through at the expense of the home nation.

Greece still have an outside chance, but there has been nothing so far that would suggest they have enough to cause Russia any problems in their final group game.

TN5 Verdict: We predicted Russia and Poland at the start and we are sticking with it. Russia look almost certain to get the result they need against Greece, and they could also spring a surprise in the quarter finals against Group B’s runner up. Poland must win against the Czech’s, but we fancy them to keep the home nations dreams alive – although it will be short lived with Germany the likely opponents in the quarter-finals.

Group B

Back to back defeats leave highly fancied Netherlands on the brink of elimination. The Dutch have created the chances but failed to convert them. They now need a 2 goal victory over Portugal and rivals Germany to do them a favour against Denmark to go through.

Germany need a point to make sure of qualification and have looked the best team in the tournament so far. It’s going to take a special performance from someone to stop them going all the way.

Portugal’s late winner has put them back in it, but they will need to overcome a desperate Netherlands if they are going to progress, and that’s not going to be an easy task. While Denmark’s opening day win against the Dutch might just be the result to take them through. A draw with Germany MIGHT be enough to take them through.

TN5 Verdict: We went with Germany and Netherlands, but it might be just too much for the Dutch to qualify. Second place is wide open and any team could progress. We think Netherlands will get the result they need against a very average Portugal (ending Portugal’s hopes) but with a draw being enough to see Germany winning the group, Denmark might just get the point they need to send the Dutch home early. A quarter final with Russia though might just be as far as the Danes go.

Group C

Ireland are the first team definitely out of the competition after two disappointing performances and results. With only pride to play for, we could see some changes to their line up for the final game.

These changes could help Italy. Like Poland, Italy have put in two decent performances, but no wins leave them desperate for victory on the final day. A win will almost certainly put them through though.

And that leaves Spain, who continue to impress with their total domination of the possession, and Croatia to fight it out. Spain put 4 past Ireland, but were gifted many of the goals and their lack of goal scoring ability could come back to haunt them in future rounds. They won’t concede many, but could come unstuck by not finding the net often enough.

Croatia have put in two good performances, but may just come up short from a very difficult group unless they can perform a miracle against Spain.

TN5 Verdict: Italy will get the victory they need against Ireland, and Spain will see off Croatia for our pre-tournament prediction to come through. And with the teams from this group playing the qualifiers from Group D, we wouldn’t be surprised if both make it to the semi-finals -  although for Spain, Torres will not be the one to score them the goals to take them all the way, and this could be their ultimate downfall.

Group D

England got their much needed victory, but only just! Goals for each of the strikers is encouraging, with the returning Wayne Rooney adding to the attacking options, but the manner in which they conceded the two goals was disappointing. However, they are now just one point away from the quarter-finals and must be expected to progress from the group stages now.

France were far more comfortable with an impressive victory over host nation Ukraine, with Cabaye in fine form as predicted by TN5. It’d difficult to see how they won’t get at least a draw against the already eliminated Sweden to set up a tasty looking quarter-final against probably Spain or Italy.

After a great opening game result, for Ukraine it’s looking like they will be out at the group stage unless they can manage an unlikely victory over England.

TN5 Verdict: France will get a victory over Sweden to secure top spot in the group, with England doing enough to join them in the quarter-finals. Both will face tough ties, with England going no further and France really having their work cut out to reach the semi-finals.  

Friday, 15 June 2012

Who Should Roy Pick For England V Sweden?

TN5 give their view as to who should be in the starting line-up for England’s game against Sweden

After a reasonable point against France, England now face Sweden in what many are seeing as a must win to avoid a “do or die” match against host nation Ukraine in the final game. With calls for the team to be more adventurous, question marks against the fitness of some key players, and the continued absence of Wayne Rooney, this is TN5’s view of how we should line up for the game:

More adventurous?

Many commentators have stated they are looking for England to be far more adventurous and attacking in this second game, after the point against France. Even Steven Gerrard suggested England should be looking to dominate possession and the play far more than they did in the opening game. We think this has potential to be very dangerous.

The danger is that “being more adventurous” can easily be translated as throwing in an extra forward, or seeing Gerrard bombing on from midfield to support the front line. This will leave England dangerously exposed and whilst Sweden may not capitalise this strategy, other teams further in to the competition will. Our view is that yes we need to push further up the field and dictate the play more, but this should be done by releasing our full backs to join in the attack – something they both excel at. Italy have shown the advantages of full backs getting forward, and whilst we are not suggesting 3 at the back, this can be done if you have 2 holding midfielders sat in front of the two centre halves.

The formation

As with the opening game, we believe England’s best formation is 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders. This is how the top sides are lining up -  Busquets and Alonso, Schweinsteiger and Khedira, Van Bommel and De Jong. The added advantage for England is we have two great attacking full backs who are better at attacking than defending, certainly in the case of Johnson. This needs to be utilised to make us more attacking. Cole and Johnson pushing on in the spaces out wide, with Gerrard and Parker holding their positions to provide the protection.

In effect when we are on top, it will be a 2-4-3-1 line up as we look to attack down the flanks.

Back 5

The keeper and defence will be kept the same, although we maintain Jagielka is a better alternative to Terry.

The key change is getting Cole and Johnson on the front foot, safe in the knowledge they are covered by the midfield pairing.

Defensive Midfield

Highly likely to be Parker and Gerrard again. However, if either were struggling with tiredness, I’d have no hesitation in bringing in Jones to that position, or even Milner. Jones is an excellent short passer and Milner works his socks off, willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the team.

The key to this role is discipline. Far too often Parker is caught out ahead of the ball when a move breaks down. He doesn’t need to influence the play going forward the way he tries to. He is far more effective when he is in position protecting the back line. Alongside the “tackler” we need a passer. And Gerrard is certainly that. If the pair of them are disciplined and learn to sit in their position, they provide great protection, but can also move the ball around well to retain possession.

If Gerrard needs a lesson in how to play the role, have a look at Schweinsteiger’s performance against the Dutch. Always in position when the move breaks down, but backing-up play when the opportunity arises and creating chances. We need Gerrard to fulfil this role.

Attacking Midfield

Young to be retained in his role behind the front man, but Roy should bring in Walcott down the right. His pace and ability to set up a chance is ideal for the formation and he will put 2 or 3 good chances the way of the striker.

On the left it’s a choice between Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had a reasonable game against France (and the one we’d stick with), or Milner. His industry down the flank would combine well with an overlapping Cole.


Our favourite comments from pundits this tournament was the BBC panel “Welbeck was Man of the Match for me”, followed by “Other than Lescott’s header, we didn’t create any chances”. Surely a contradiction if ever there was one? Is it not the job of the forward to a) score goals; and b) create chances? If Welbeck did neither, was he really Man of the Match?

Whilst Welbeck had a reasonable game, we still believe Carroll offers a much greater threat, especially in the formation we believe England should play. His power and presence would have been a real handful for France, and will be for Sweden. With the right supply line from attacking full backs and pacey wingers, he has the height, technique and power in his shot to be a top marksman this tournament.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Euro 2012 First Round Review

Are TN5 Standing By Their Original Predictions For the First Stage Of Euro 2012?

Now that each team has played their opening game, who has impressed, who has disappointed, and how is TN5’s pre-tournament verdict looking?

Group A

Well, we predicted a tight, close, low-scoring Group A – and we couldn’t have been much more wrong! Russia have emerged from the first round of games as probably the side that has impressed most people. A 4-1 victory over the Czechs make them easily the stand-out team of Group A. However, they were sluggish in the opening phase of the game and will face far better opposition in the later stages.

Poland started superbly against Greece, but the sending off of the Greek defender probably worked more against the Polish as they began to sit back and rest on their 1-0 lead. Had they continued attacking with Blaszczykowski looking a threat down the right and Lewandowski a handful upfront, they would have taken the game. Greece fought back well though and could have won it in the end.

TN5 Verdict: We are sticking with our pre-tournament prediction of Poland and Russia to go through, albeit from a far more exciting group than anticipated.

Group B

The shock of the first round of games came when Denmark beat Netherlands. Many peoples’ favourites to win the tournament, the Dutch simply couldn’t convert any of the chances they created with Robben, Huntelaar and particularly Van Persie the guilty parties.

Germany overcame Portugal in the most eagerly awaited, and yet most uninspiring game of the opening round. It wasn’t until they had gone behind that Portugal began to utilise their attacking flair, but it was all too little too late.

TN5 Verdict: It’s an uphill struggle now for the Netherlands, but we are still sticking by them to get through with Germany. What a game on now between them on Wednesday! Could all four teams be on 3 points each going into the final game?

Group C

Well, Jelavic did show his Everton form on the international stage as he helped Croatia to a well deserved victory over Ireland who, I’m afraid, looked out of their depth. The bigger tests are still to come for Croatia though if they are to make it through the group.

Spain sprung their own surprise by naming a team with no centre forward. And when they did bring a forward on, Torres looked the all too familiar figure of someone devoid of confidence. Like a golfer who has lost his confidence in putting, I fear Torres will never be a true force again. Italy contained the Spanish well and created several chances of their own. They look a useful outfit, particularly once Ballotelli had gone off.

TN5 Verdict: Again we are sticking with our predictions. Although Croatia impressed against Ireland, the tougher games against Spain and Italy will see them just miss out.

Group D

England would have taken a point before the game, so they won’t be too disappointed. An accomplished, but far from sparkling display got their tournament off to a reasonable start against France with the draw a fair result.

With Ukraine coming back to win 2-1 against Sweden, they have given themselves a chance of progressing and set up a couple of intriguing games on Friday.

TN5 Verdict: We’re making it 4 groups out of 4 where we sticking by our original predictions. After a point apiece from the opening game, both England and France should have enough to see off both Sweden and home nation Ukraine, despite their opening game victory.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Who Should Roy Pick For England V France?

TN5 gives its view as to who should be in the starting line up for England’s opening game

With Euro 2012 now underway, the countdown begins to England’s first game Vs France on Monday 11th June. With much controversy and debate surrounding the initial squad selection, and the subsequent numerous withdrawals, Roy Hodgson is left with a squad of players who he somehow has to mould into a winning team. With no Wayne Rooney available, this is TN5’s view of how he should line up for the opening game:

The formation

With what looks on paper a limited squad, Roy will be looking to make the most of the players he has available by getting the tactics right. We believe that he must go with a 4-2-3-1 line up.

The key to England’s success in the tournament will be utilising one of the few assets we have in the two good attacking full-backs. They need to have the confidence to push forward and support the midfield and forwards whenever possible, especially if Carroll is the front man. To do this, we MUST eliminate our Achilles heel and have the insurance policy of two holding midfielders. Time and again we get hit on the break. Germany did it to us in the last world cup, Robben did it for Holland earlier this year. Even in the last two friendlies, Parker has too often been caught ahead of the ball when a move has broken down. Ideally you would have a ball winner and a passer in those two holding roles, like Spain will line up with Busquets and Alonso. 

In front of the holding two, three forward-thinking players need to create problems for the opposition to put them on the back foot, but fall in to help defensively. And up front either someone to hold the ball up or to run in behind the back line to keep the defenders pushed back.


Hart. No brainer. Probably the best keeper in the world and will be kept busy this tournament.


Full backs will be Johnson and Cole. However, both need to be encouraged to get forward, as this is what they are best at. They need to be putting the opposition on the back foot and pushing Ribery and Nasri backwards, rather than waiting for them to come on to us. They also need to be as much, if not more so, of a supply line of crosses to Carroll as the wide midfielders, as they will inevitably get more time and space on the ball coming from deeper.

At centre half we have real problems. Even before the injuries, we would have gone with Jagielka and Lescott but Roy will undoubtedly pick Terry at the expense of Jagielka. Jagielka and Lescott proved they can work well together against Norway and to us, would present the most stable of partnerships of those that are available.

Defensive Midfield

This is where England’s tournament will be decided, and we fear to our cost. Time after time England come undone being hit through the middle of the park: Romania 2000; Brazil 2002; Germany 2010; and Robben this year in the friendly. We need two HOLDING midfielders to protect the centre halves. Ideally this would be a tackler and passer. Unfortunately, we don’t have a quality passer of the ball to anchor the midfield alongside Parker, who also needs to severely curb his tendency to drift forward towards the end of games.  We would have given Gerrard the role with strict instructions to hold his position. But, we all know Gerrard is an all-action player and Roy won’t be able to resist the temptation of having him push on. Unfortunately the hole he leaves behind him is a greater threat to us than the risk he presents to the opposition going forward.

If we were being bold we MIGHT consider Jones in there alongside Parker. Jones is a great passer of the short ball and a future England captain, and it would release Gerrard into an attacking midfielder role. This might be the best option in the absence of Rooney, but will Roy risk Jones in the middle against France? Highly unlikely.

Attacking Midfield

Young is an automatic choice and our greatest creative hope. If Gerrard takes a holding midfield role we’d play Young centrally. If Gerrard was pushed forward behind the front man, Young goes out to the left which is where he will play when Rooney is available to slot into that role behind the main striker.

As for the wide positions, Walcott’s pace is a must for us down the right. The amount of chances he creates for Van Persie is vastly under-rated and the fear he puts into the opposition back line is a real asset. Roy will probably go with Milner though to counter the French attacking threat, and you could deploy Milner on the left if Walcott does start. However, in keeping with our attack-minded line up, with a strong defensive midfield unit to protect the back line, we would go for the surprise element of Oxlade-Chamberlain down the left to really get at the French back line.


With just one role upfront, it’s a straight choice between Carroll and Welbeck. We would go for Carroll. He came in for a lot of undeserved stick this season, but is a real handful for any defender and the French centre halves are probably their weakest area. However, the big danger is to lump the ball forward to Carroll. We need to work the ball up to him as we would if it was Welbeck, as the big man has an excellent touch. Carroll’s real threat comes from his aerial ability, and this needs to be utilised from crosses, where the attacking fullbacks will come into their own providing the ammunition for Carroll to fire home.

So that’s our line up as to how England need to play to beat France:
Hart; Johnson; Jagielka; Lescott; Cole; Gerrard; Parker; Walcott; Young; Oxlade-Chamberlain; and Carroll.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Come On England!

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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Euro 2012

TN5 give their view on all the teams

With Euro 2012 due to get under way very shortly, TN5 cast their eye over all the competing teams. Who is likely to be leading the way in their groups, and who looks like they might struggle?

Group A

Czech Republic – With many of the stars from previous years now retired, the Czech Republic are not the force they were. With limited options up front, they will look to Arsenal’s bit part player Rosicky to provide the drive and creativity. However, they do look fairly strong defensively, with Cech in goals likely to be a busy man. Defender Kadlec was the leading scorer in qualifying, which tells you all you need to know about their attacking options.

Greece – The defensive style that brought them glory in 2004 may have changed, but so too has most of the team from that era. A lot will rely on the new generation of players such as Ninis creating in midfield and Papadopoulos at the heart of the defence. Promising for the future, but perhaps a tournament too soon for these players to really shine?

Poland – The co-hosts will be looking to progress to the quarter finals after getting a dream draw. Much will depend on the form of their two stars at either end of the pitch. In Szczesny they have a keeper who’s performed superbly in the Premier League and Europe, and up front they will be relying heavily on the goals of Lewandowski. Have they the creativity in the rest of the team to supply the chances that could take them even further than the Quarter finals?

Russia – Excelled last time out when an Arshavin inspired side reached the semi finals of Euro 2008. Certainly not the force they were then, but still a side that could cause an upset. Much will depend on Arshavin recapturing his pre-Arsenal form, and also whether Pavlyuchenko or Pogrebnyak have brought their shooting boots with them. With an accomplished keeper in Akinfeev behind a solid back line, they should have enough to take them through from the easiest group in the tournament.

Verdict – In a group of teams where the keepers are often the stars, don’t expect too much excitement. Poland should push through with home advantage, and Russia are probably the best of a limited bunch and likely to progress too.

Group B

Denmark – A reasonably decent team with some household names, and in any other group would fancy their chances of qualifying. But the draw has been exceptionally harsh and it’s difficult to see them getting more than a point or two. Agger and Kjaer at the back will be difficult to breach, and many eyes will be on the young, creative Eriksen in midfield, but it would be a mammoth achievement to knock out either Holland or Germany, never mind Portugal.

Germany – Many peoples’ favourites for the competition, with stars throughout the team. Neuer is a quality keeper, Lahm is class at full back, midfield is packed with Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Ozil and new star Gotze, with firepower from Gomez, Podolski, Muller and Klose. Perhaps their one weakness is at central defence which the opposition will look to exploit. A daunting prospect for anyone, but can Gomez fire the goals they will need if they are to go all the way?

Netherlands – Another star studded side. Solid at the back, they have an embarrassment of riches going forward. If Sneijder hits top form, with Van Persie’s class they could be the most potent attacking force in the competition. This could be their year after missing out in the World Cup final 2 years ago.

Portugal – A one man team? There’s no doubting Ronaldo’s class, probably the biggest talent on show. Looking around the rest though and you see a lot of very average players. The golden era is no more with only the likes of Veloso and Moutinho coming close to reaching Ronaldo’s world class standing. A tough group may prove a step too far for him to bridge on his own.

Verdict – The most eagerly anticipated group of all. It will be tough to qualify but Germany and Holland should have too much for the other two. 

Group C

Croatia – Always performed well in recent years and again are many peoples’ outside bet. A solid team with a strong back line. Going forward, they will rely heavily on Modric, but where will the goals come from? Jelavic is likely to lead the line, but his international form is far from prolific. If he can capture his form for Everton, they could have a chance of progressing to the Quarter finals and perhaps beyond.

Italy – Shock horror! Scandal hits Italian football. Now where have we heard that before? Well, most recently just before they won the World Cup in 2006 so they are used to prevailing against the odds. However, this is an aging Italian side with no stand out star. No Del Piero, no Baggio, no Totti. Perhaps this could be a blessing as the team as a whole comes to the fore. Much will depend on the midfield drive of De Rossi and defensive strength of Chielli in front of Buffon.

Rep of Ireland – Making their first major finals for 10 years, and the Irish always perform. A tough group won’t worry them as they revel in the underdog tag. Difficult to see where the goals will come from and much will depend on the rear guard action of Given, Dunne and others. If they are to nick a goal or two, perhaps Long could emerge as a national hero to take over from Keane in leading the line.

Spain – Current Euro and World Champions. Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Fabregas, Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Busquets, Torres, Pedro. Need we say more? Not really….except no one ever wins three in a row do they? With no Villa and Torres having the crisis of confidence he’s had, could scoring actually be a problem for the Spanish (they were never prolific when at their very best)? Llorente could emerge as the key player. We saw glimpses last year for Athletic Bilbao and he could provide the goals that otherwise might be missing.

VerdictSpain to ease through the group stages but could come unstuck in knock out football. Extremely close to call for the 2nd qualifying team, but expect Italy to rally and snatch the other spot just ahead of the others.

Group D

England – It’s heart rule head time! Or should that be Hart rule head? The golden generation is just about past their time, a depleted squad with injuries and suspensions, there’s not much hope pinned on this squad. Expect Hart to have a busy time between the sticks, but he is the best goalie in the world and he will cement his growing reputation on the international stage this summer. In the absence of Rooney, much will rest on Young to provide the creativity, and Carroll (if selected) could emerge as a hero after a difficult season. It’s going to be tough, and the battle will be won or lost by the central midfield two. Can they be disciplined enough to provide the protection the back four will need so we don’t get hit on the break?

France – They go into the tournament on the back of a 21 game unbeaten run, and a team unity that has been missing in recent times. A well balanced side, particularly in midfield, that combines strength with skills. Many eyes will be on the much talked about M’Vila, but keep an eye on Newcastle’s Cabaye whom much of the play will go through. Nasri and Ribery will be expected to create the openings, and Benzema is in the kind of form that will take anything that’s offered to him.

Sweden – Always a tough side to beat, particularly for England! They will be well set up at the back with WBA’s Jonas Olsson out to put one over his former boss. Kallstrom in the middle of the park will pull the strings and which Ibrahimovic turn ups could impact massively on the Swede’s chances.

Ukraine – Co-hosts, but with far less prospects than Poland. A tougher group and a weaker team, it difficult to see much joy for this home team. Tymoshchuk will run the midfield and Gusev’s pace will be their main outlet, but the stars are now well past their best and the most they can hope for is to be party spoilers for the others sides.

Verdict – France to dominate the group, with England just doing enough (probably the hard way) to see off Sweden and a disappoint Ukraine.