Three days have been and gone, and now we are onto the fourth and final group of EURO 2012. Kick-off for Group D is just minutes away as France take on England before co-hosts Ukraine finally get their campaign under-way against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in front of their own fans. Personally, I’m getting tired of this "no pressure" talk surrounding the England team – after all it has been used so frequently that there is in fact pressure on the team to do well. Regardless, France are amongst the dark horses of the tournament and with Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery in attack, they certainly have more firepower than Roy Hodgson could ever dream of. An intriguing battle awaits.
Yesterday’s opener was also a match between two European powerhouses which promised much, but unlike so many before it, this game actually delivered on the excitement front. Italy’s back-three with Daniele De Rossi as libero contained the 4-6-0 of Spain with relative ease, and for large parts of the game they outshone the European and World Champions. Perhaps Prandelli made the wrong choice in starting with Mario Balotelli, but equally his substitution that saw Balotelli replaced by Antonio Di Natale was perfectly timed and led to the Italians making the breakthrough on the hour mark. Sure, that lead only lasted four minutes as Cesc Fàbregas equalised, but Italy (and indeed the rest of the world) will see positives in the result – for the first time in what seems eons, Spain nearly look beatable.
The day’s other game saw Croatia destroy the Republic of Ireland and with it all but ending the Irish’s dreams of reaching the knockout stage. Mario Mandzukic opened the scoring within three minutes and while the Irish equalised on 19 minutes through Sean St. Ledger they never really looked likely winners. Nikica Jelavic restored the Croatian lead just before half-time and an unfortunate own goal from Shay Given sealed what was a comfortable win for the Eastern Europeans who are in their final tournament under the guidance of Slaven Billic. Line-ups for England vs France are after the jump.
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France (4-2-3-1): Hugo Lloris; Patrice Evra, Philippe Mexes, Adil Rami, Mathieu Debuchy; Alou Diarra, Yohan Cabaye, Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri; Karim Benzema
England (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Ashley Cole, Joleon Lescott, John Terry, Glen Johnson; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young, James Milner; Danny Welbeck