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Wileman: Revisiting predictions ahead of final group games

Luke Wileman
6/16/2012 10:20:38 AM
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As we head into the final round of group matches at UEFA Euro 2012, my pre-tournament predictions are standing strong. Well, almost.

Sweden's defeat to England ended their chances of progressing in the tournament, and therefore also put a stop to my chances of correctly predicting the teams that would advance to the quarter-finals. Heading into UEFA Euro 2012, my money was on France and Sweden to qualify from Group D, but Sweden's failure to take a point from two matches now leaves France, England and Ukraine as the three teams still alive.

Sweden's major letdown came against co-host Ukraine in their opening match. Having taken the lead, they succumbed to Andriy Shevchenko's finishing master-class and threw away a game they really needed to take something from.

My reasons for going with Sweden were twofold – I felt they had a good mix of youth and experience and had a new direction under Erik Hamren that would give them a strong chance to progress. They were never going to be spectacular, but I thought they would be well organized and have enough steel in their lineup to make it through.

So where did it go wrong? Their defence has been horrendous. The Swedes conceded two headed goals in the match against Ukraine, and didn't fix the problem for Friday's match against England. The way Andy Carroll was able to head home unchallenged for England's first goal was unacceptable at the international level – however Steve Gerrard's delivery was exceptional.

England's pre-tournament predicament also factored into my prediction that Sweden would progress. Heading to Euro 2012 with a manager who had only been in the job a month, plus a new captain and major suspension and injury problems, my expectations for the Three Lions were extremely low. Two matches in, Roy Hodgson deserves immense credit for the way he has shaped the team.

Hodgson made some brave selection decisions with his squad and appears to have the players on side. Former England midfielder Darren Anderton is one of our studio analysts on TSN and has been talking about his belief that England's chances are better because there is not as much pressure on them to succeed as there usually is in a major tournament. Anderton spoke with former teammate Joleon Lescott who told him the spirit within the England camp is as good as it has ever been. It will have to continue like that if England are to progress.

England's players certainly showed resilience against Sweden. It was by no means the highest quality match in the tournament, but they fought back well having gone 2-1 down at a time when many people would have written them off. Once again, Roy Hodgson made a crucial decision, bringing on Theo Walcott who scored after just three minutes and then assisted on Danny Welbeck's superbly taken winner.

Ukraine also stands a chance to progress from Group A. Their match with England will likely decide who makes it through to the quarter-finals along with France. Heading into the tournament England would probably have been happy with this scenario. Win against the co-hosts and they're in.

The other three groups are still wide open. I'm confident about my pre-tournament selections of Spain and Italy advancing from Group C, and also Russia and Poland qualifying from Group A.
 
As expected, Germany look like the best team in Group B, but the Netherlands have been a massive let-down. The disharmony within their camp has derailed their hopes. They are looking like a bunch of individuals rather than a team, and that's why their hopes of progressing now hang in the balance. It sets up a thrilling deciding day in Group B on Sunday, when the Netherlands face Portugal and Germany take on Denmark.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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