England are determined to end their decades-long jinx against Sweden in a Group D encounter today which has assumed must-win status for both sides.
Sweden’s opening 2-1 defeat to Ukraine on Monday means that Erik Hamren’s team will be eliminated if they lose to England, who have never beaten the Scandinavians in a competitive fixture.
Ukraine’s win has complicated matters for England, however, who must beat Sweden if they are to avoid the possible daunting scenario of having to beat the co-hosts in their final group game next week to advance.
The scenario puts more pressure on England considering their poor performances at major international events.
‘It’s a must-win game’
While England’s defensive display against the French failed to win many points for artistic impression, the mood within the English camp is upbeat, despite the uphill task ahead of them.
“The Swedes are a very difficult side to play against and I don’t think we’ve beaten them for a long time in a competitive game,” said England captain Steven Gerrard. “It’s a game we should win.”
Manager Roy Hodgson acknowledged England needed to show more penetration in attack and his players have what it takes.
“We have the players in our squad who could step up to the plate and adopt an attacking approach,” said Hodgson.
“I’m pretty sure all the players are raring to go and they’ll be working very hard as they’ve done after this France game to make certain they recover and make themselves available.”
Time for Ribery and Benzema to shine
Kept at arm’s length by England, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema will be expected to raise their game when France meet Ukraine today in a match crucial to their Euro 2012 prospects.
Their performances in Monday’s 1-1 draw with England were far from catastrophic, but neither the Bayern Munich winger nor the Real Madrid striker was able to pierce the English rearguard.
Ribery proved that he is once again in top shape but he was guilty of over-elaboration, and particularly during the second half. Benzema, meanwhile, was closely shackled by John Terry and Joleon Lescott, forcing the 24-year-old to drop deeper and deeper in search of the ball.
“When you say that Benzema is dropping deep, have you seen him at Real Madrid?” remarked France coach Laurent Blanc.
“He drops deep all the time. Against a compact defence, you have to try to lose your marker and find space. Karim plays like that habitually.”
Ribery also defended France’s approach in their opening game.
“We tried to play for 90 minutes,” said the 29-year-old. “We made twice as many passes as them, but there was no air. It felt very hot and it was very tough.”
Superstars Ribery and Benzema’s performances will be crucial, and not least because today’s game could play a pivotal role in determining whether or not France are able to progress beyond group stages.
“The Swedes are a very difficult side to play against and I don’t think we’ve beaten them for a long time in a competitive game. It’s a game we should win.”
“There won’t be wholesale changes because we don’t have any injury problems and the players who did well against France are all hoping to get picked to play again.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2012.
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