Euro 2012 Day 8: Changes pay off for England, France in Group D
Things done changed, as Notorious B.I.G put it. Back in the day (Monday), France and England tied 1-1 in what probably stands as the tournament's least entertaining game, while Ukraine was carried to the top of Group D by a sumptuous double from Andriy Shevchenko, beating Sweden. "We can't play like that against a very good team," said French coach Laurent Blanc afterwards. "I'm glad to get this game out of the way," said the English manager Roy Hodgson. "No one is happy and we grieve together," said the Swedish boss Erik Hamren. The only thing to stay the same in Group A on Friday was defeat for his side.
Blanc changed his starting XI for Friday's storm-delayed match against Ukraine, most notably pulling the ineffective Florent Malouda and replacing him with PSG's Jeremy Menez. France did not have it all its own way, but Menez played a crucial part in the fast-moving front line that ranged in and around the Ukraine defense like big cats stalking a herd of antelope, and could have had the ball in the net three times before eventually cutting inside the Ukraine left back Yevhen Selin and stroking the ball into the bottom corner shortly after half time. Yohann Cabaye doubled the lead a few minutes later, lifting les Bleus to top spot.
Having been criticized for a deep and defensive England display on Monday, Hodgson also changed his starting line up, bringing in Andy Carroll up front and shifting Ashley Young in to a wide/roving role. For which he was also criticized, pre-game, despite the changes fitting almost perfectly with Sweden's weakness to the aerial threat that Carroll, when supplied from wide areas by the likes of Young, poses. Halfway through the first half the switch looked to have paid off, as the Liverpool striker leapt to meet a fine Steven Gerrard cross and sent a powerful header beyond Andreas Isaksson.
When England fell behind, then, to a Glen Johnson own goal and an unmarked Olof Mellberg header, Hodgson's immediate reaction was to throw on Theo Walcott, who appeared for just a minute at the end of Monday's game. Instantly England was transformed. Walcott scored with his third or fourth touch, volleying beyond -- almost through -- Isaksson from distance before setting up Danny Welbeck's magnificent winning goal. This was a somewhat lunatic game, swinging from the sublime to the John-Terry-chasing-Zlatan-Ibrahimovic-in-a-2-mph-foot-race, but the manager who can't win figuratively engineered a literal victory that sees England second to France on goal difference. Things done changed indeed.
"Did he mean that? Did he? I think he did, you know. Look! Look, he's definitely trying to do that." And so it went on. It was the 78th minute, when England fans were watching and waiting for something to go wrong. Instead, Walcott burst between Sebastian Larsson and Jonas Olsson, chipping his center up over Larsson's diving block. Welbeck -- f
32 percent -- the proportion of goals at Euro 2012 scored from headers. That's compared to 19 percent at Euro 2008.
"Tea and coffee" -- Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin has a chuckle when asked what Andriy Shevchenko brings to the team.
Saturday brings the final day of play from Group A, with both matches kicking off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Russia, atop of the group with four points, plays Greece, bottom of the group with just one; a draw will see the Russians through while Greece needs a win to survive and knows it must stake a claim early on in the game if it is not to be overridden. Russia is favorite, though Dick Advocaat was concerned about his side's second half performance against Poland and has doubts over the fitness of Konstantin Zyryvanov having already lost Alekdandr Korokin for the remainder of the tournament.
The Poles, meanwhile, face Czech Republic, with a win enabling either to qualify if Russia wins, or a draw seeing the Czechs through. This game too is overshadowed by injury problems. Tomas Rosicky will have to pass a fitness test in order to take his place in Czech Republic's midfield, while Poland may have to do without Damien Perquis, Eugan Polanski and Dariusz Dudka.