Stirling Albion came into this Scottish Cup third round match on the back of an historic victory against Rangers, in their last home game, and a well-earned draw away at Peterhead. As such, the home crowd were expecting a comfortable victory against Highland League side Deveronvale.
The Highland League-ers were anxious at the start of the match, in spite of their enthusiastic travelling support. It was Albion who started the match more confidently. A cross from full-back Stephen Day found Jordan White whose header did not trouble Darren McConnachie in the Vale goal.
Stirling began to sit back following an energetic start which had asked serious questions of the Vale defence. On one of Deveronvale's few early forays into the hosts' half, full-back Kevin Adams drilled a long range shot over the bar.
As the first half progressed, the visitors clearly grew in confidence against their Third Division opponents. Stirling were struggling to string any meaningful passages of play together and keep the ball for prolonged periods of time. Despite being the better of the two sides, Deveronvale didn't create much and were unable to seriously threaten Sam Filler's goal. A rare Stirling foray upfield saw a corner fall to Graham Weir whose shot was blocked before Stephen Day drilled the rebound over. As Albion continued to lose the midfield battle, Vale carved out a decent opening as a ball into the box found Graeme Rodger, but his close range effort was blocked.
The remainder of the first half was uneventful, but the match appeared to be swinging in Deveronvale's favour, as they started to dominate Stirling before the referee blew for half-time.
There were no changes at the break, and an early free kick chance for Albion saw Daly McSorley’s strike deflect off the wall and behind for a corner. Soon after, Albion captain Brian Allison passed the ball back to goalkeeper Filler, who proceeded to scare Albion fans as he smashed his clearance into Vale's Craig Morrison and out for a goal kick. This sparked Vale into action and his teasing cross picked out Craig Cowie who slammed a shot just over Sam Filler’s crossbar.
Seconds later, a slack clearance from Brian Allison was picked up by Craig Cowie, who drove into the Albion box before dispatching a low shot inside Filler’s left hand post.
After going behind, an Albion corner kick gave home fans some hope but Gary Thom could only head Scott Davidson’s cross wide of the goal.
Despite being a goal ahead, Deveronvale pushed on for a second and looked to kill the game as the home side created next to nothing. Vale central defender Scott Fraser headed straight into the gloves of Sam Filler when a second seemed imminent. Stirling's Ross McGeachie then lost possession in a dangerous area and goal scorer Craig Cowie collected and fired in a shot which deflected behind. Another opening for Vale moments later when Chris Blackhall burst into the box only to have his shot blocked, resulting in yet another corner for the visitors.
Albion repeatedly wasted and lost possession in the final minutes of the match. As a result Stirling could not create any momentum, and were unable of putting the visitors under pressure. Deveronvale remained untroubled in defence, and saw out the last tension-filled minutes of the match to secure a well-deserved victory over Albion.
After the match, Stirling Albion Assistant Coach Marc McCulloch said: “I’m struggling to find the words to describe what happened. It was a great opportunity for the club to progress to the fourth round but the players have let down the management team, the staff and the fans.
“We’ve got our players saying there is a fear factor (at home) and we need to knock that out of them – they have to face the fact they have paying supporters who want to see Stirling do well. They have to deal with any shouts and the like.
“Not only did we lose the game but we never really looked like scoring. The management team will be obviously be criticised after this result but the players need to step up to the plate.
“At half-time I thought we could go on and win the game but the goal came from a defensive mistake when we tried to pass the ball out from the back and the first goal was always going to be very important.”
Deveronvale Manager Charlie Charlesworth said: “We are over the moon and I’m delighted for the fans. It’s a great day for the club – I thought the players were great. We were organised and limited Stirling to only a few chances.
“We watched them at Peterhead last week so we knew their formation but we stuck to 4-4-2 and after the first 15 minutes I thought we did very well.”
Stirling Albion: Filler (GK), McGeachie (Flood 74'), Day, McCunnie, Thom, Allison (C), G Weir, McSorley (Ferry 61'), Davidson (Cunningham 67'), McClune, White.
Subs not used: Clark, Peat (GK)
Deveronvale: McConnachie (GK), Rennie, Adams, Hendry, Fraser, Rodger, Lombardi (Barclay 89'), Cowie (Urquhart 78'), Morrison (Duncan 72'), Blackhall, Watt
Subs not used: MacDonald (GK), Noble
Referee: Barry Cook
Stirling Albion 1-0 Rangers
Irn Bru SFL Division 3 - 6th October 2012
Stirling Albion came into one of the biggest matches in their history having only won two of their first seven games of the season, having beaten Annan on the opening day of the season, and easily overcoming Dalbeattie Star in the Scottish Cup second round the week before.
They were not aided by the fact that Albion manager, Greig McDonald, was unable to lead his team on the day, as he had his own wedding to attend instead. In his place, Assistant Coach Shaun Fagan took charge for the day.
In spite of Rangers' domination of possession in the first five minutes, Albion found themselves ahead in the ninth minute, thanks to a goal from captain Brian Allison. Daley McSorley's corner from the left-hand side swung into the Rangers box, and was not dealt with. With the ball bouncing around the box, Allison pounced and smashed the ball past Rangers' 'keeper Neil Alexander and into the net. Cue euphoric reactions from the Stirling faithful.
Rangers were obviously shaken by this, and sought an immediate equaliser. Just minutes later, Rangers winger Lewis MacLeod struck a weak shot from the edge of the Stirling box, which was easily dealt with by Sam Filler to his left-hand side.
The first half soon became extremely scrappy, with neither side able to maintain possession for any real length of time. Rangers' best chance of the half came when captain Lee McCulloch's glanced header struck the inside of Filer's left-hand post, and was promptly booted clear by Brian Allison.
Stirling soon tried to extend their unlikely lead. Some excellent play down the Rangers right flank saw Albion full-back Keiran McAnespie pass through to lone frontman Jordan White, who cut inside and had his shot deflected out for a corner.
Half-way through the first period, both sets of players became very fired up and it looked like it would be sooner rather than later before someone was sent for an early bath. On the twenty-fifth minute, Albion's Stephen Weir was booked for a cynical and clumsy tackle on Rangers 'keeper Alexander inside the visitors' box. Without a clear chance of winning the ball, Weir was lucky to have remained on the pitch.
Albion once again could have gone in at half-time with a second goal. A long punt up-field by full-back David McClune put White one-on-one with Alexander, but he could only scuff his shot across the face of the Rangers goal.
With half-time not far away, Albion squandered another huge opportunity. A ball was launched into the Rangers box, who once again failed to clear, and Albion's Stephen Weir sliced the ball wide of the left-hand post from only five yards out.
Rangers looked to end the half with a goal, and came close on a few occasions. Full-back Anestis Argryiou found himself wide open on the Albion left flank, and charged down the pitch only to fire a cross-come-shot across the face of the Stirling goal. A Lee McCulloch free kick was well dealt with by Sam Filler who gathered after an initial parry, and with just about the last kick of the half Dean Shiels pulled a shot well wide of the target.
Stirling held on to head in at half-time one-nil up.
Albion 'keeper Sam Filler was replaced at half-time by Mark Peat. It was revealed after the match by Assistant Coach Shaun Fagan that Sam Filler had been only able to see out of one eye in the later part of the first half.
A chance fell Rangers way in the first few seconds of the half as an Aird corner fell to Ian Black whose stinging drive was well blocked by Mark Ferry. Not long afterwards, Lee McCulloch and Dean Shiels combined and Mark Peat did superbly to tip Shiels' close range effort round the post for a corner.
Stirling were unable to keep possession, as Rangers dominated the midfield, and as a result the pressure kept coming back on the home defence. Mark Ferry lost possession in a dangerous area and was relieved to see Lewis MacLeod drive his shot just wide of the target. Rangers looked certain to equalise. A corner from the Rangers left was met by Lee McCulloch's head and it took an excellent goal-line clearance from Marc McCulloch to keep Albion ahead.
In the 60th minute, Rangers captain Lee McCulloch found himself booked for a blatant dive on the edge of the Albion box. In spite of this, Rangers continued to push forward.
Rangers full-back Lee Wallace fired over the bar from 18 yards as Rangers began to appear desperate in their search for a leveller. Former Hearts and Scotland striker Kevin Kyle was introduced to the game around half-way through the second half, and was involved straight away as he got on the end of a Wallace cross only to head wide of Peat’s right hand post. Stirling blew an excellent opportunity to extend their advantage. Good play out wide ended with Jordan White sending in a perfect cross to Steven Weir who once again fluffed his lines as he sclaffed wide with Neil Alexander rooted to the spot. Up the other end, sub Barrie McKay did well to create space before drilling a shot just over the bar.
Gary Thom found himself in the book, after he crunched into Ian Black. A groggy-looking Black was quickly replaced by Kal Naismith. Just moments later, Kevin Kyle was played in once again, but Peat did well to push the ball behind for a corner.
A ball into the Stirling box fell nicely for Sebastian Faure but he could only scuff his shot into the side of Peat's goal. Kevin Kyle then linked with Dean Shiels whose tame attempt was easily held by Peat.
With the clock almost at 90 minutes, Rangers threw everybody forward. Kevin Kyle again rose highest to a crossed ball only to float a header straight into the hands of Mark Peat. A loose ball on the edge of the box fell to Lee McCulloch, but his strike flew well over the bar. With the resulting goal kick, referee Bobby Madden blew for full-time.
As they walked off the pitch, Albion players, deservedly, found almost the entire home stand applauding and giving them a standing ovation.
Stirling Albion Assistant Coach Shaun Fagan after the match: “It's a great feeling to beat Rangers. It's a great day for the players and the club. The boys did really well, and defended really well. It's a great team performance defensively. We knew that when Rangers came here, they were going to have the majority of the play, and they were going to have chances. In the first half, Sam (Filler) made some great saves, and Peat did a great job as well. It was never going to be a pretty game for us, and it was never going to be football that passed Rangers off the park, so we knew we'd have to roll the sleeves up, dug in and fight for everything we could.”
Rangers Manager Ally McCoist after the match: “I'm extremely disappointed and exasperated...that said, we certainly created enough chances to win. When you don't take your chances, you get punished, and that was the case today. You have to congratulate the opponents, but at the same time, look at our own performance ...the tempo of the game wasn't played nearly quick enough. That aside, the chances we missed were an indication of the way we were playing. They did take their chance, and that's why we got punished. The overriding emotion I have at the moment is that of frustration."
Stirling Albion: Filler (Peat '46), McClune, Thom, Allison, McAnespie, Graham Weir, McSorley (Day '59), McCulloch, Ferry, Stephen Weir (Flood '88), White.
Subs Not Used: McGeachie, Brass.
Booked: McAnespie, Stephen Weir, McClune, Thom.
Goals: Allison '9.
Rangers: Alexander, Argyriou (McKay '67), Perry, Emilson Cribari, Wallace, Faure, Black (Naismith '85), Macleod, Aird (Kyle '71), Shiels, McCulloch.
Subs Not Used: Gallacher, Crawford.
Booked: Aird, McCulloch.
Referee: Bobby Madden
It may be two years away, but Scotland's build-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil begins on Saturday at Hampden Park, when Craig Levein's men take on Serbia in their first competitive match since October last year.
Serbia may not be considered to be a major footballing power since independence in 2006, but they have been slowly developing a team full of players who compete at some of the top clubs across Europe. Scotland's forwards will find it difficult to break down a defence including Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, Borussia Dortmund's Neven Subotic, Manchester City's Aleksander Kolarov and Lyon's Milan Bisevac, meanwhile Serbia's midfield includes players such as Benfica's Nemanja Matic and CSKA Moscow's Zoran Tosic.
However, up front is where Serbia's problems begin. Their forwards all play for good European sides, but none of them have yet scored for their country, whilst the four of them only have seventeen caps combined.
Scotland have only suffered two pull-outs from the original 24-man squad selected to play against both Serbia and Macedonia. Norwich right-back Russell Martin and Southampton left-back Danny Fox have both left the Scotland squad, and have been replaced by Huddersfield left-back Paul Dixon and MK Dons centre-back Gary MacKenzie.
Undoubtedly, Serbia have several superb defenders, and it will be up to a very creative Scotland midfield to break them down. Scotland's forward line has a mix of experienced players such as Kenny Miller and Shaun Maloney, whilst also containing several less experienced, but very talented, players such as Jordan Rhodes and Matt Phillips.
With Besiktas goalkeeper Allan McGregor fit to play, having been suffering with a groin injury, the spotlight then has to shine brightly upon Scotland's defence. None of the defenders selected can be considered to be anywhere near as talented as their opposite Serbian defenders. However, Levein is shaping a reasonably solid and consistent back-line, which will concede goals, but should not make too many elementary mistakes that Scotland fans have been used to witnessing in recent years.
Scotland kick-off against Serbia at 3pm on the 8th September, whilst they face Macedonia, also at Hampden Park, at 8pm on Tuesday 11th September.
Irn-Bru SFL Division 3 – 25/08/12
Stirling Albion went into this match on the back of a mixed start to their season. Having defeated Annan Athletic 5-1 at home on the opening day of the season, they suffered a 3-1 loss away to Elgin City. Greig McDonald and his players were looking to secure their second home victory in succession, and get themselves back into winning ways.
The first-half was a scrappy affair, and took a while to really get going. Stirling's only real chances in the opening quarter came from a deflected Keiran McAnespie free-kick, which went just wide of the Clyde goal. Not long after, Mark Ferry had an opportunity to put Stirling ahead, but his header effot from a corner floated just wide of the post.
Clyde found themselves ahead in the twenty-fifth minute when forward, Stefan McCluskey, teed up his fellow striker, Kevin Watt, who turned the Albion defence inside out and finished neatly inside Mark Peat's left hand post.
Just a few minutes later, Clyde's front two worked another good chance, when McCluskey set up Watt, who curled his shot onto the roof of the Stirling goal.
Albion looked to find an equaliser before going in at half-time, and they nearly found a stroke of luck when Steven Weir's sliced cross hit the crossbar, with Clyde 'keeper, Jamie Barclay, left flat-footed.
Significant chances in the second-half for either side where hard to come by. Albion's best chance of the half came when Steven Weir's cross was palmed away by Jamie Barclay in the Clyde goal, only to find Keiran McAnespie tamely heading it straight back into the goalkeeper's hands.
Clyde were looking to double their advantage, when Stefan McCluskey cut inside and drove his shot narrowly wide of Mark Peat's right-hand post. Stirling once again hit the post with a decent chance, when Steven Weir supplied Scott Davidson, who proceeded to nudge the ball into the bar.
Albion quickly stepped it up, and went in search of their long-awaited equaliser. Graham Weir nodded the ball down to midfielder, Daly McSorley, whose close-range shot was turned behind by Jamie Barclay. However, this was to be their last chance of the game.
Clyde's best chance of increasing their lead came when Stevie Masterton smashed a fizzing shot just wide of Peat's right-hand post, as the Albion 'keeper stood rooted the spot.
That was to be the last real chance of the match, and the game ended with Clyde going home with three points. Stirling will look to deliver a much improved performance next Saturday, and improve on their record of four defeats from five competitive matches so far this season, when Queens Park visit Forthbank.
Stirling Albion: Peat (GK), McClune, Ashe, McCunnie (McSorley '62), Thom, Allison (McGeachie '62), Davidson, Ferry, G Weir, S Weir, McAnespie (Flood '72).
Subs (not used): Macpherson, Filler (GK).
Clyde: Barclay (GK), Brown, Kane, Gray, Marsh, Hay, Neill, Masterton (Sweeney '82), Watt, McCluskey, McColm (Scullion '82).
Subs (not used): MacBeth, Sharp, Rajovic (GK).
Scorer: Watt '25
Referee: Des Roache
Irn Bru SFL Third Division - 11/08/12
After the disappointment of suffering their second successive relegation at the end of last season, Stirling Albion were looking for a positive start to a season which will be seen as one of rebuilding and, hopefully, challenging for promotion from Division 3.
Albion opened their league campaign at home to Annan Athletic, who finished just outside of the Division 3 play-offs last season, and took only sixteen minutes to net their first goal of the new season. Striker, Scott Davidson, latched onto a Graham Weir pass to turn inside the box and find the corner of the goal.
It was clear that it was not going to be Annan's day when, after just twenty-seven minutes, striker Graeme Ramage was sent off for an elbow on Mark Ferry. Graham Weir found himself nodding in Scott Davidson's corner at the near post in the thirty-first minute for Stirling's second goal.
Another Scott Davidson corner set up Stirling's third in the thirty-seventh minute, when Danny Ashe smashed the ball in from six yards out, and scored his first senior goal. In the forty-second minute, Albion stretched their lead to four goals, when centre-back Jamie Clark curled the ball into the top left-hand corner past the helpless Alex Mitchell in the Annan goal.
Stirling didn't appear to be as dangerous in the second half, but eventually increased their advantage to five goals in the sixty-eighth minute, after Gavin McPherson's free-kick was deflected into the Annan net.
Annan pulled back a consolation goal following an error by Albion goalkeeper, Sam Filler, when a seemingly innocuous free-kick from Annan substitute Graeme Bell found its way into the Albion net.
Next week, Stirling travel to play Elgin, who drew 0-0 against Berwick Rangers in their first league match.
Stirling Albion: Filler (GK), McGeachie (McClune 68), Ashe, McCunnie, Clark, Allison, Davidson, Macpherson (McSorley 68), Weir, Coyne (Brass 46), Ferry.
Subs (not used): Flood, Cleland (GK).
Scorers: Davidson (16), Weir (31), Ashe (37), Clark (42), Macpherson (67)
Annan: Mitchell (GK), Blake, Thorburn, Swinglehurst, McGowan, Chaplain, Sloan, McKechnie (Steele 46), Daly (McGachie 70), Ramage, Love (Bell 46).
Subs (not used): Jardine, Summersgill (GK).
Scorer: Bell (72)
Referee: Greg Aitken
So it's all over for another four years, and Spain showed that they can truly be considered amongst the greatest sides in history with their superb run to becoming the first side to retain their title as European Champions.
Here is my personal selection for Team of the Tournament, but I'd like to hear your opinions on my eleven, and who you would have picked instead.
1: Iker Casillas (Spain): Casillas, a veteran aged just 31, showed why he is consistently considered to be one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers in the world over the past decade. Although he certainly wasn't as busy as most other keepers in the competition, he commanded his defence and made some superb saves when called upon to do so.
2: Theodor Gebre Selassie (Czech Republic): The previously unknown Czech full-back was arguably the find of the tournament. His incredible pace and straight-line running, combined with his ability to get into good crossing positions, ensured that he played his part in dragging the Czechs into the quarter-finals. No surprise, then, that German side Werder Bremen, snapped him up following the Czech Republic's exit.
4: Mat Hummels (Germany): The Borussia Dortmund defender had already undergone a phenomenal double-winning season with his club, and had the likes of Manchester United chasing his signature, but he sealed his superb domestic season with some outstanding performances for Germany. In addition to highlighting his excellent defensive qualities, Hummels showed glimpses of his inner Beckenbauer, as he rampaged forward from defence and showed incredible composure and skill for a big centre-back.
5: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy): The Juventus defender, having guided his club side to an unbeaten season, proved to be the linch-pin of an Italian defence, which wasn't as solid as one might normally anticipate. He was always tidying up the mistakes of others, making some great blocks, tackles and headers when the situation arose.
3: Fabio Coentrao (Portugal): The, reportedly, frustrated Real Madrid full-back once again showed his quality both going forward and in defence. Coentrao was excellent when moving down the left flank and supplying deadly crosses for his team-mates. He also showed a marked improvement in his defensive abilities, which had been in question before, as he barely missed a tackle.
6: Andreas Iniesta (Spain): Iniesta did in this tournament what Andreas Iniesta does best, and that is to simply be one of the most talented midfielders in the world. His passing, vision and scything runs at the opposition defence all highlighted how important he is to the Spanish system.
7: Andrea Pirlo (Italy): The veteran Juventus midfield general had something of a renaissance during the competition. Many thought he was past his former best, and should not have played in this tournament, forgetting that he had played more minutes than anyone else for a side which went unbeaten last season in Serie A. He was simply magisterial against England and Germany, finding the kind of passes that most players can only dream of.
8: Xavi (Spain): What more can be said that hasn't already been said about one of Spain's greatest servants? Xavi shepherded the Spanish attack with incisive, cutting passes and excellent positional awareness. There's nothing more to add, really. Xavi was just excellent.
10: Andrei Arshavin (Russia): Despite his side's early exit from the tournament, Arshavin proved to be one of the most dangerous wingers in the competition. He terrorised defences in a fashion which reminded us why Arsene Wenger signed him for Arsenal a couple of years back. He looked rejuvenated whilst captaining his country.
9: Fernando Torres (Spain): No strikers had a particularly great tournament this year, but Golden Boot-winner Torres was the best of the lot. He had extremely limited playing time, due to Vicente Del Bosque's 'different' formation choices, but he proved to be extremely potent, with three goals in just two starts. Rival for the Golden Boot, Mario Gomez, only shined in the Netherlands game, and was quiet throughout the rest of the tournament, whilst Mario Balotelli only looked dangerous in the semi-final against Germany, despite all his hard work elsewhere.
11: David Silva (Spain): The Manchester City attacker was the maestro who created so many of Spain's goal-scoring opportunities on the way to their eventual success. He always looked dangerous with superb one-touch passing and fantastic vision, and even pitched in with a great headed goal in the final.
Individual Player of the tournament: Andrea Pirlo
Goal of the tournament: For me, it has to be Mario Balotelli's second against Germany in the semi-finals. Balotelli ran the German offside line (I use that term loosely) magnificently and raced away to smash the ball past a statue-esque Neuer. It was the epitome of the classic counter-attack.
Moment of the tournament: Andriy Shevchenko's first goal against Sweden for Ukraine in Kiev. Coming to the end of his career, Shevchenko showed why he was one of the greatest strikers in the world during his time at AC Milan, and rolled back to years to power a header past Isaksson in the Swedish goal to send the home fans into euphoria.
Shock of the tournament: Greece 1-0 Russia – 16/6/2012
Nobody anticipated the Greeks to do anything of any significance at the tournament, so defeating a strong Russian side and making the quarter-finals was a phenomenal achievement for a relatively poor Greek squad.
Biggest Disappointment of the tournament: France
Pre-tournament, many raved about how good the French had looked, how they had overcome their various issues of a few years back, and how they could be a serious contender for the eventual prize. In the end, the French simply didn't look like a cohesive side, and internal struggles once again were reported in the media and had a serious impact on the team's performance. I had expected so much more of a team with so many talented attacking players.
Group A is perhaps one of the less anticipated sections of Euro 2012 but this does not make it any easier to predict the outcome.
The co-hosts will be hoping to make their nation proud as they take on Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic in Group A. With the honour of being tournament hosts they are also afforded automatic qualification for the Championships. They kick off the tournament and their campaign in Warsaw against Greece in a game which could set the tone for Group A. Their second match is played in the same stadium against Russia before travelling to Wroclaw for their final group game against Czech Republic.
The current crop of players will be looking to improve upon their last outing in major championships as they failed to get out of the group stages in Euro 2008. Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski is expected to provide their biggest goal threat whilst his club team mate and national team captain Jakub Blaszcykowski will be looking to control the tempo of the game from the midfield. Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is likely to start in goals and will be looking to continue his impressive club form during the tournament.
The Greek national side will be hoping to deflect the country’s attention away from the economic trouble at home as they travel to Poland and Ukraine to play in Euro 2012. They were surprise winners in 2004 as they defeated hosts Portugal in the final. Prior to Euro 2004 they were outsiders to win the tournament and eight years on they are in a similar position. It is unlikely that they will be able to replicate their success in Portugal however their performances during qualification for the tournament suggest they may be able to cause a few upsets.
Midfielder Giorgos Karagounis is one of the few players remaining from the successful Euro 2004 squad. The 35 year old midfielder will be looking to emulate his performances from eight years ago when he was a key player for Greece scoring the first goal of the tournament in their victory over hosts Portugal. Celtic striker Georgios Samaras will be another key player for the Greeks as they look to progress from a section where any team could qualify.
Russia will be heading into the opening stages of the tournament full of confidence and will look to qualify convincingly for the quarter finals. Boasting the most experienced squad in the group, the Russian side will be hoping that the players continue their impressive club form during the championships. Manager Dick Advocaat will be departing his role as manager following the tournament and will be looking for a successful tournament. After reaching the semi finals of Euro 2008, they are regarded as a much improved footballing nation and could be one of the dark horses for the tournament.
Their squad boasts a number of household names from top European clubs including Zenit St. Petersburg’s Andriy Arshavin and Igor Denisov, Lokomotiv Moscow’s Roman Pavlyuchenko and Anzhi’s Yuri Zhirkov. With a wealth of talent at Advocaat’s disposal they should manage to qualify from what is a difficult group.
The Czech Republic reached Euro 2012 after a long qualification battle. They finished second in their qualification group, securing their spot in the play offs in the final round of matches. In the play offs they faced Montenegro and convincingly brushed them aside winning 3-0 on aggregate. Their best performance since reaching the final of the 1996 tournament was back in 2004 when they were defeated by this year’s group rivals Greece in the semi final. That result was a shock and no doubt this year Michel Bilek’s side will be looking to avenge that surprise defeat.
In a group with Greece, Poland and Russia, Bilek’s side will like their chances of qualification. The Náro?ák will be hoping that their key players step up to the mark and perform to the best of their ability. At the heart of their midfield will stand Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, the Czech’s will expect him to pull the strings and dictate the play during the games. Former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker Milan Baros will lead the line for the team and his form in front of goal will be key to their progress. Goalkeeper Petr Cech will be another key member of the team aiming to build upon his impressive club performances following their Champions League Final victory.
08/06/12 17:00 Poland v Greece
08/06/12 19:45 Russia v Czech Republic
12/06/12 17:00 Greece v Czech Republic
12/06/12 19:45 Poland v Russia
16/06/12 19:45 Greece v Russia
16/06/12 19:45 Czech Republic v Poland
Predicted final standings
2. Czech Republic
Every tournament has a group dubbed the ‘Group of Death’ and this is most definitely it. The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Portugal will fight it out to reach the latter stages of the tournament with the winners of Group B undoubtedly set to mount a serious challenge to Spain’s title defence.
The Netherlands are a side still smarting from their narrow defeat to Spain in the World Cup Final two years ago and the criticism they received surrounding tactics during the match. Dutch maestro Johann Cruyff led the critics of that performance stating that the team had departed from their distinctive ‘total football’ philosophy during the match. As if they required further motivation, they face neighbours and bitter rivals Germany in their second group match. All eyes will be on the Metalist stadium on the 13th June as the two nations face off at the top of their game having qualified convincingly. The Oranje will also face tough matches against Portugal and Denmark with the former looking to replicate the match between the two nations in the 2006 World Cup. That match was a memorable one which included four red cards and sixteen yellow cards as Portugal ran out 1-0 winners.
The Dutch have several high profile players in their squad to help them reach the high expectations from the squad during the tournament. Arsenal talisman Robin van Persie will play a central role in their attacking play and will be a potential golden boot candidate if they reach the later stages. Inter Milan attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben can add themselves to the Dutch attacking force that has tremendous flexibility and skill. However, one of the most pivotal players for them will be Dirk Kuyt. He has developed into an impressive winger at Liverpool and it is likely manager Bert van Marwijk will utilise his notable defensive abilities to shut down the opposition in the wide areas.
The Danes are a side expected to end their European Championship campaign at the group stage as they take on much higher profile nations. Nonetheless, they finished top of their qualifying group beating Portugal into the automatic qualification spot. However, the Portuguese did inflict Denmark’s only defeat during their nine qualifying matches. The Danes will provide difficult opposition for all of their group rivals but it is unlikely they’ll be able to progress beyond the opening stage.
Denmark have an experienced squad at their disposal, none more so than veteran Stoke City goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen providing solid protection in goal. Ajax youngster Christian Eriksen will be one to watch during the tournament as his flair is likely to cause problems for the opposition. The man they will be hoping can keep their hopes alive is Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner. Many will use this campaign as a measure of his potential having failed to deliver in the past. He has struggled to find regular football at Arsenal and with his contract due to expire this summer he will be keen to impress prospective suitors on one of the biggest stages.
Germany are amongst the favourites to win the championships, only trailing 2008 winners Spain in the pre-tournament betting. They are a nation rich in tournament success but are currently experiencing a sixteen year trophy drought. In the 2010 World Cup they had travelled to South Africa with a youthful side that are now much more experienced at the highest level having qualified with ease posting a perfect ten wins from ten matches.
They boast a squad full of talent. Players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller will be vital to the midfield’s resourcefulness but none will be as important in the creative department as Real Madrid wide player Mesut Ozil. Having just helped Real Madrid to the La Liga title and will be a key man who can unlock opposition defences with his vision, understanding and passing. The man they will be hoping to bang in the goals and continue his impressive club form is Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez. He struggled in the Champions League Final against Chelsea, missing a number of chances in front of goal so he will be looking to prove himself again at the highest level.
The Portuguese will be looking to upset the odds in this group as they face up to two of the best national teams in the world. After qualifying for the tournament through the playoffs, defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina convincingly, many may have tipped them as outsiders to win the tournament overall. However, their draw for the opening stages has made that task considerably more challenging. Portugal are a side that boasts considerable talent with some of the most highly rated players in world football in their midst but they suffer from perennial underachievement in major competitions.
Without a doubt the world’s most expensive player Cristiano Ronaldo is the key player for them but his performances for the national side have proven less fruitful than in club football. He has struggled at times to reproduce his best form in the red and green shirt and it will be interesting to see if he is able to reverse that trend. His former Manchester United team mate Nani will also play a major role as they look to create the chances to win matches.
09/06/12 17:00 Netherlands v Denmark
09/06/12 19:45 Germany v Portugal
13/06/12 17:00 Denmark v Portugal
13/06/12 19:45 Netherlands v Germany
17/06/12 19:45 Portugal v Netherlands
17/06/12 19:45 Denmark v Germany
Predicted Final Standings
Each and every group in the tournament is intriguingly poised as the draw for the opening stages set up a number of fascinating contests. The group includes current World and European champions Spain, Italy, Republic of Ireland and Croatia. Spain are overwhelming favourites to progress top of the group whilst the others fight out for second place in the group. Italy will enter the group as slight favourites to progress but they will undoubtedly be affected by events in recent weeks. This will open the door for the Republic of Ireland and Croatia to join the fight, they are two teams that can challenge anyone on their day.
The Spanish enter the tournament as favourites to retain their title but there are many questions being raised. The side appeared invincible until late last year when they were defeated 1-0 at Wembley by England. A few minor cracks have started to show in their impressive squad that may lead to an upset at some stage of the competition. The majority of their starting XI resides in either Madrid or Barcelona. Players from both Real and Barca have had a long arduous battle for the La Liga title with Barcelona’s own invincibility obliterated by Real Madrid’s league win and their defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League semi final.
It is perhaps one of the players they are missing that will be the biggest problem in this competition. Striker David Villa is out of the tournament with a broken leg and his goals will be missed. His absence places more pressure on Chelsea’s Fernando Torres to find top form and bang in the goals for them. His form picked up in the second half of the season but it is questionable whether he has obliterated his early season form from memory. The key man in midfield will be Andres Iniesta who scored the only goal in the World Cup Final two years ago. His quick feet, precise passing and impeccable vision have earned him the reputation as one of the world’s greatest midfielders.
Yet again Italy’s reputation within football has been rocked by more match fixing allegations surrounding their club sides. Domenico Criscito was released from the squad for the competition to clear his name after being questioned at the team’s training camp. The former Juventus and Genoa defender pulled out after being placed under investigation in the match fixing scandal. Police arrested 17 other people in the same operation, including Serie A side Lazio’s captain Stefano Mauri, whilst Juventus manager Antonio Conti was placed under investigation. This is an unwelcome disturbance for the Azzuri as they prepare to put their early exit from the 2010 World Cup behind them. They start in the most difficult way against defending champions Spain after qualifying from one of the easiest groups in the European qualification zone.
The heart of the Azzuri’s midfield will be central to their success in this competition. Andrea Pirlo reinvigorated himself this season after moving from Milan to Juventus and helping them land the Serie A title. At the age of 32 he is still one of the top midfielders in the world and his experience will stand him in good stead to lead them into this campaign. His partner in midfield will be the fiery Daniele di Rossi who will be looking to prove his quality on the highest stage again.
Republic of Ireland
The Irish always bring a unique feel to a major tournament and this year will be no different. They are set to bring a vibrant and friendly support with them and will undoubtedly win over the Polish locals. They are a stubborn side who make calculated decisions and do not take many risks during matches. Surprisingly they are the only side in the competition who play with a 4-4-2 formation, setting out their defensive and direct approach. This is the first time they have reached the European Championships in 24 years whilst also being led by the oldest manager in the competition, 71 year old Italian legend Giovanni Trappatoni.
The old guard will play a vital role in Ireland’s hopes for the tournament with Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane all still putting in performances of the highest quality for their country. In attack they have the threat of Duff and Spartak Moscow winger Aiden McGeady who will trouble opposition crosses with his trickery and enticing crosses into the box. Robbie Keane will want to replicate his form from their last major championship outing in the 2002 World Cup where they were eliminated by Spain in the knockout stages.
Slaven Bilic’s side would often be regarded as one of the favourites to progress to the knockout stages however they face a difficult task against three top class sides. They are a nation still hurting from their elimination in Euro 2008 at the hands of their near neighbours Turkey on penalties. Ranked 8th in the FIFA World Rankings they will be looking to capitalise upon the turmoil the Italian’s are currently experiencing whilst hoping to overturn the Republic of Ireland in what is likely to be a hotly contested encounter.
Like many other sides, their main players in the tournament will be the ones who provide the creative flair. Tottenham’s highly rated Luka Modric will pull all of the strings in midfield as he will look to prize open the solid defences of Italy and Republic of Ireland. He will be backed by Borussia Dortmund’s Ivan Perasic and Wolfsburg’s playmaker Mario Mandzukic who can fight for the ball in every minute of every match which will be vital to keeping the Spanish and Italians at bay.
10/06/12 17:00 Spain v Italy
10/06/12 19:45 Republic of Ireland v Croatia
14/06/12 17:00 Italy v Croatia
14/06/12 19:45 Spain v Republic of Ireland
18/06/12 19:45 Croatia v Spain
18/06/12 19:45 Italy v Republic of Ireland
Predicted Final Standings
2. Republic of Ireland
On the face of it, Group D appears to be one of the more predictable groups, but with the French in tow it’s impossible to predict which France side will turn up. Alongside the French in the group, England will be hoping to overturn co-hosts Ukraine and Sweden to reach the knockout stages.
After the debacle that was the 2010 World Cup for the French national team, they will be looking to get back on the major tournament track under manager Laurent Blanc. Their new manager has restored the harmony in the squad as well as the pride of the French people in their national side. The current team is hugely different from the one that embarrassed the country in South Africa and it is one equipped with lots of talent. They face England in their opening match and whichever side wins that match will be confident of qualification. They are a side with quality in abundance and several players with experience at the highest level that could go far and even on to win the trophy they haven’t won since 1984.
France will be looking to their young flair players during their matches. Karim Benzema has been on the young talent radar for many years since breaking into the Lyon first team as a teenager and now it appears he is beginning to fulfil that promise. He has contributed massively this season to Real Madrid’s La Liga title victory and France will be hoping he can continue that form this summer. There are several English Premier League players in the squad with Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa likely to make a significant impact. Their knowledge of their English opponents may prove key to their success during the early stages.
It has been an uncharacteristically low key build-up to the tournament for England. Many supporters were underwhelmed by the appointment of Roy Hodgson following Fabio Capello’s resignation earlier this year. His omission of Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand from the tournament squad for ‘footballing reasons’ was a surprise for many and was a big decision from the new boss. It may well be a decision that defines their tournament, but no-one can predict which way it will swing. Along with France they are favourites to qualify from the group, but they face tough tasks against co-hosts Ukraine, who will have the full force of home support behind them, and Sweden, who have an exceptional record against the English.
The squad has already been hit with some injuries to players like of Gary Cahill and Frank Lampard but the absence of the latter may be more of a blessing in disguise. Previous managers have tried time and time again to fit Lampard and Steven Gerrard into the same midfield and often it has been to their detriment. Lampard’s absence will allow Steven Gerrard to control the game from central midfield as he leads England into a new era. Andy Carroll scored some important goals for Liverpool as the season drew to a close. His form picked up as the season progressed and he gained confidence. With Rooney banned for the first three matches of the tournament, England will need someone to step up and this could be Carroll’s time to make a name for himself on the international stage.
The co-hosts enter their first ever European Championships with the spotlight on them and their country. They face a difficult task to progress from this group and may be regarded by some as the whipping boys of the group but do not be fooled; they will put in rugged defensive displays which could well prove costly to their opposition’s hopes. It is highly unlikely that they will make it past the group stages in their own country, but there is always hope that they could cause an upset and delight the home fans.
Ukraine boast several household names in their squad with the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk amongst their ranks. Former Chelsea and AC Milan player Shevchenko will retire from international football after the tournament and will be looking to go out on a high. He will lead the line for the home side and will look to former Liverpool winger Andriy Voronin to supply the service to him. Bayern Munich midfielder Tymoshchuk will be a key player as he sits in the defensive midfield position protecting the defence. Manager Oleg Blokhin will look to him to close down attacks quickly and control the tempo of the match.
The Swedish will pose the biggest threat to France and England’s hopes of progression. They qualified automatically from their group as best runners up after Holland won the group. They secured qualification with an impressive 3-2 victory over the Dutch which shows they are no pushovers and a team to be reckoned with. They have a particularly impressive record against England only being beaten once in 43 years against the Three Lions.
Their main man is none other than AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The former Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan and Barcelona forward will lead the line alongside Galatasaray forward Johan Elmander and the side will be majorly dependent on that partnership being successful this summer. His critics claim he plays for himself more than for the team and he can’t perform on the big stage. Nonetheless, he is one of the best forwards in Europe and can always find that inch of space required to have a strike at goal.
11/06/12 17:00 France v England
11/06/12 19:45 Ukraine v Sweden
15/06/12 17:00 Ukraine v France
15/06/12 19:45 Sweden v England
19/06/12 19:45 Sweden v France
19/06/12 19:45 England v Ukraine
Predicted Final Standings