England 1-0 Ukraine
While the scoreline might suggest differently, this was not a hard result for England to reach.
The absence of Shevchenko was a killer blow for Ukraine, and though they attacked with vigour from the off, and dominated the play for large parts of the game, they were never able to discomfort England too much, save for that one brief moment in the second half.
This just wasn’t that big a test for England. Since a win was not necessary they were able to keep to a low intensity, absorb the Ukrainian pressure, crowd out any of the forwards in their own penalty area, and hit the co-hosts on the counter attack whenever they could. Rooney’s return was under-stated, marked by a tap-in header. For England this was a confident, assured performance against a team they were more then capable of dealing with.
Ukraine just got more and more desperate as the game went on, with a succession of wild shots, persistent fouling, and a lack of direction in the English half. This is not a good Engli9sh defence, but they were rarely troubled.
Except for Devic’s shot, clearly over the line before John Terry hoofed it away. The criticism of the extra officials has been rife throughout the tournament, and this incident will only add to the furore surrounding the absence of technology to sort out such disputes. A decision on that issue is to take place in July, and a huge amount of attention will be oj that meeting.
But, even with that, this was not an unjust result. Ukraine were toothless and easily managed. The4 lack of competitive football in the run-up to the tournament has affected them badly. England can celebrate an unexpected group win, saving them from the nominally harder task of Spain. Instead, it is Italy, a task that is certainly not easy, but not beyond them either.
France 0-2 Sweden
One might well wonder what happened here.
Unbeaten in 24 games, the French just switched off, allowing an eliminated Swedish team to utterly dominate the game. The 2-0 scoreline is flattering to the French, who could easily have lost by more. The goals took a while in the coming but were more then deserved, Ibrahimovic’s smashing volley and Larsson’s close range effort enough to condemn France to a tricky quarter final tie with the defending champions.
France just didn’t seem that interested, playing in a stunningly casual manner, out muscled and outperformed all over the pitch by a Swedish that, unlike Ireland, seems to acknowledge that they have under achieved in this tournament and was determined to end on a high note. The pace and fluidity of the Swedish attack was on display from the off, and the French took an astonishingly large amount of time to get back into it, not really probing the Swedes too much until they had conceded, and even then they were easily dealt with.
This does not bode well for a game against the Spanish, who will be hoping to maintain that short passing game that has seen them win so man “big” games. The French look dangerously uninterested, an attitude that Blanc must do something about between now and the weekend.
So ends the group stage. My predictions were pretty off in retrospect. No positions right and no qualifiers right in Group A, one position and one qualifier right in all the other groups. That’s 3/12 positions and 3/12 qualifiers right. Not my best work.
Let me try it again then. No easy quarter finals to call, but I think it will go thusly:
Portugal over Czech Republic
Germany over Greece
Spain over France
Italy over England
Let’s hope for some good knock outs.