Tuesday, 19 June 2012

France looking to avoid Spain

A Sweden side with little to play for other than pride stand in the way of France in their quest to reach the knockout phase of the Euro 2012.

 France are sitting atop Group D, with goal difference keeping them ahead of England after enduring the stalest of stalemates against the Three Lions before confidently seeing off co-hosts Ukraine in a sodden second match.

 A draw against the Swedes will be enough to secure Les Bleus' passage into the quarter-finals of the competition, but it would not guarantee pole position, which is much coveted as it avoids a meeting with world and European champions Spain.

 "We still need something from the third game," head coach Laurent Blanc said in the wake of his side's scalp of Ukraine.

 "We're not going to get ahead of ourselves. Let's stay humble.

" Yet the momentum with this French team appears to be building.

 France extended their unbeaten record to 23 matches with that 2-0 win over Ukraine, and the victory was, significantly, their first at a major tournament since their semi-final victory against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup.

 With that monkey off their back, Sweden would be right to be wary of a chest-beating outfit.

 The Swedes are out of the tournament after, in a match of toing and froing, they succumbed to a 3-2 loss versus the English.

 Their coach, Erik Hamren, has come under pressure following the failure, yet he has not shied away from criticism, stating he takes "responsibility for what we've done here".

 Sweden player to watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It is impossible to look beyond Zlatan.

 He has an allure. This forward, with all due respect, is arguably a cut above his compatriots, yet he is guilty of fading in and out of matches.

 When he is involved, though, his impact can be devastating, and certainly he threatens to be the biggest threat to France.

 "We're playing for our honour against France," Sweden's captain said. "We are going to bring points with us back home.

 We've got one match left and will do something positive with it."

 France player to watch: Franck Ribery.

 Like Zlatan, Ribery is another footballer capable of the brilliant, but also an at times infuriating customer. Following criticism of his form for France, the wideman has managed to transfer something of his club form to his country during this tournament.

 Indeed, he completed the most dribbles at Euro 2012 after two rounds of matches.

 Boasting a blistering turn of pace, Ribery, who has one assist to his name in the competition thus far, has the talent to turn a tight game on its head.

 Key battle: Olof Mellberg v Karim Benzema.

 The contender for best beard at Euro 2012 endured a mixed last outing for his nation, as his brace looked poised to clinch Sweden a memorable comeback - in the process extending their historic hold over England - and subsequently keeping them at Euro 2012 beyond the group stage. Alas, the night ended in agony for the former Aston Villa defender.

 Faced with the height and power of Andy Carroll against England, the strengths of Benzema will test other facets of the Swede's game.

 Benzema has yet to open his goalscoring account at Poland and Ukraine, but he has threatened to send the net a-bulging.

 Indeed, any suggestion of dropping him from the side because his goals scored column reads 'zero' can be countered with the statistic that he is the top scorer (seven) and top assist provider (seven) for France under Blanc.

 Stat: France's shooting accuracy is the highest at Euro 2012: they've tested the opposition goalkeeper with 68% of shots.


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