Tag Internationals

Tag Internationals

United Rant Live! Germany v Holland

June 13, 2012 Tags: , International 7 comments

Germany versus Holland in one of the iconic fixtures in the international football calendar, invoking memories of the 1974 World Cup final, and the feisty clash between the sides at the 1990 version of the competition. Those are just two in 38 fixtures between the countries that remain the best of enemies. There is unlikely to be any love lost when the sides meet once again, in Khakiv, at Euro 2012.

Following Holland’s surprise loss to Denmark on match-day one, Bert van Marwjick’s men desperately need the points in the industrial Ukrainian town, while Germany is looking to build on a narrow win over Portugal. Indeed, a Germany win will send Joachim Löw’s men into the next round, and Holland out of the tournament.

There’s tangential Manchester United interest in this clash, with the perennial tabloid column-filler Wesley Sneijder starting for Holland, while young midfielder Keving Strootman should also be involved. On the German side former United trainee Ron-Robert Zieler will be on the bench.

Join United Rant for our latest live blog at Euro 2012, with Ed and Jony Ball from around 7pm, with preamble and Portugal – Denmark updates 5pm.

 

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United Rant Live! England v France

June 11, 2012 Tags: , International 2 comments

Eight years on from England’s 2-1 defeat to France at Euro 2004 and the sides meet again in Donetsk, Ukraine, late Monday afternoon. Once again France will start favourites to emerge victorious, with England hampered by injuries, a late change of manager, and a general lack of quality! But can Roy Hodgson’s men ‘park the bus’ against France and pull off an unlikely result?

There’s plenty of Manchester United interest in this one, with Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young set to start for the Three Lions, and Patrice Evra with France. Suspended Wayne Rooney will watch from the sidelines, while Phil Jones will be on England’s bench.

Join United Rant for our third live blog of the tournament, with Ed and Jony Ball from around 4.30pm, with news updates throughout the day.

 

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Welbz and Young: England’s lone rangers

June 10, 2012 Tags: , , , International 32 comments

With Euro 2012 well under way attention has turned, momentarily Rant suspects, from the tittle-tattle of transfer market gossip to the world’s second biggest football tournament™, which is taking place in Poland and Ukraine over the next three weeks. In between bouts of organised racism, fans from 16 countries hope to witness some high quality football. Before Spain or Germany inevitably walk off with the trophy, of course.

There’s plenty of Manchester United-related interest in this one, with seven current players and six ex-Reds taking part – Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck for England, Patrice Evra with France, Anders Lindegaard with Denmark, and Nani with Portugal.

Many United supporters will also point to Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick’s bizarre exclusion from the England set-up. The former of whom had Roy Hodgson fluffing his lines in a BBC interview on Saturday, with the England coach now claiming that Ferdinand is “too good” to sit on the bench. There’s Rant thinking Rio might have been “too black” to be in the same squad as John Terry. But then, Rant is the cynical type.

England, meanwhile, enter an international tournament with the lowest expectations since Bobby Robson’s side lost all three group matches at Euro 1988 in Germany – to Holland, the Soviet Union and Ray Houghton’s Ireland. There’s unlikely to be much shock should England return home early once more after three difficult fixtures in the next 10 days.

And the start couldn’t be much tougher for Hodgson’s men, with a vibrant France the first opponents on Monday afternoon. The sight of the aforementioned Terry, reportedly carrying groin and hamstring injuries, trying to keep Karim Benzema, Franck Ribéry, Olivier Giroud, Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri at bay will surely bring a rueful smile to Ferdinand’s face. After all, while Terry is built like a tank, he also turns like one, to bastardise an infamous piece of mid-1990s commentary.

But there is hope for Hodgson’s men, with England set to follow Chelsea’s lead by ‘parking the bus’ against the French in Donetsk. It isn’t going to be pretty, but anti-football can be effective on occasion. The question is how does England strike the balance between allowing the few creative players to flourish, and carrying out Hodgson’s plan A – to make the Three Lions difficult to beat.

Indeed, United’s Welbeck and Young will likely be the focus of England’s attack for Hodgson’s side on Monday, with Liverpool’s Andy Carroll on the bench. Hodgson may be all for anti-football this summer, just not that anti-football it seems. The United duo should offer plenty of food for thought to France’s somewhat pedestrian central defensive partnership of Phillip Mexes and Adil Rami.

But all that pace and dynamism is wasted if England can’t get the ball into Young and Welbeck’s feet. Early reports suggest the technically limited Stewart Downing and James Milner are to be prefered to the more attacking, but defensively suspect, Arsenal duo of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott in wide areas. While Steven Gerard will play the central midfield position, at which he has never shown any tactical discipline, along side Scott Parker – a wholehearted but limited midfielder.

France’s inevitable midfield superiority will be hard on both Young and Welbeck, with the later in particular likely to spend long periods without the ball. It’s a challenge Young appears to have taken on with gusto. After all, the United winger has scored six in his last 10 internationals to become the national team’s leading man in Wayne Rooney’s absence. Young is once again set to take on Rooney’s ‘number 10’ role for the national team, with Welbeck leading the line.

“When you play for Manchester United, the pressure’s on every week,” Young told reporters on Sunday.

“Everyone wants to beat Manchester United, so when it comes to playing with pressure, it’s no problem. I enjoy having a challenge. I remember the manager, Sir Alex, saying to me when I first joined United that it would be a big challenge for me. I’ve played a whole season now and I’m full of confidence. I’m looking forward to Monday.

“I’m a versatile player. I have been throughout my career: up front, either wing or off a main striker. I want to be creative, to get on the ball, to play. That’s exactly what I’m looking to do on Monday. I played this role for a whole season at Aston Villa and I’ve played it [for England] in the last few games. I’ve been getting on the scoresheet, getting assists. It’s up to me to use my brain, be clever, find the pockets of space and get on the ball. I think I can do that.”

True, Young has excelled in the position for England in recent games, offering a direct, intelligent, and pacey style that will compliment Welbeck’s movement into the channels. Welbeck’s inclusion will also encourage England to play the ball on the ground at least. Carroll’s would surely do the exact opposite.

But this is England; this is international competitive, and waste possession is what every England side has done at recent tournaments. At least the ones England actually qualified for. It points to a lonely late-afternoon for United’s dynamic forward duo.

Meanwhile, former United defender and France coach Laurent Blanc is wary of Welbeck’s threat, while mindful of England’s likely negative mindset.

“They’ll drop back, have a bank of four with some quick players in there, and try and hit us on the break,” said Blanc.

“We need to be careful with that and make sure we’re not caught off guard. If there’s space in behind our back four, they’ll counter-attack. If they play Welbeck, we’ll have to leave him as little space as possible to exploit.

“But we’ll play our own style. If we sat back and waited for the English to come at us, it’d be 0-0 and we might end up only threatening to score a goal from a set-piece. No, there’ll be two very different philosophies on show and I hope the side that plays more football will win the game.”

Few, least of all England’s players, will bet on Hodgson’s side playing more football on Monday. But if the Three Lions are to get anything from the match, then United’s lonely forward duo surely hold the key.

Team-by-team Euro guide: Group D

June 7, 2012 Tags: , International 3 comments

Euro 2012 is around the corner, with 16 national teams heading to bases in Poland and Ukraine ready for the big kick on Friday. And while we’re firmly Manchester United focused here at Rant, we’ll be covering the tournament in full: current and former Reds on show, with luck some outstanding football, and a big old trophy to be won! Spain defend the tournament won in Austria and Switzerland – Fernando Torres scoring the only goal of the game as La Roja beat Germany in the Vienna final. Indeed, Spain remain the bookies favourites four years on, although Germany, Holland, Italy and France will each harbour some hope. England – not so much.

In Rant’s team-by-team preview we assess each side’s chances, pick out the key players and recall some favourite moments.

 
Group D – England, France, Sweden, Ukraine
 

England

Words by Guy Bottomley, whom can be found at Sporting Ketchup and on Twitter!

After a commendable qualifying campaign in which England finished first in Group G, six points ahead of closest rivals Montenegro, scoring 17 goals in the process, write England off at your peril! With less pressure on the team than in recent international competitions, and on the back of recent victories against Spain, Sweden, Norway and Belgium, could Roy Hodgson’s England launch an attack on the coveted Henri Delaunay trophy?

Last five Matches: (W) Belgium 1-0, (W) Norway 1-0, (L) Netherlands 3-2, (W) Sweden 1-0, (W) Spain 1-0

Fifa World Ranking: 6

Nickname: Three Lions

Manager: Roy Hodgson – with 18 previous coaching jobs on his CV, the 64-year-old brings a wealth of experience to an England team that lacked togetherness much under Italian coach Fabio Capello. Never before has Hodgson managed a country as much in the spotlight as England, but to his credit, taking Switzerland to the knockout stages in 1994 was no mean feat. However, Hodgson was not all fans first-choice for the role, and needs a solid performance in Poland and Ukraine to silence the many doubters who wanted Tottenham Hotspur coach Harry Redknapp to take the reins. This is Roy’s biggest task yet, and he will need to call upon that vast wealth of experience if England is to progress.

Key Players:

  • Joe Hart, Manchester City, goalkeeper – so many times has England been let down by goalkeeping errors that Hart’s rise through the ranks is a breath of fresh air. Exceptional performances in Manchester City’s title-winning team have ensured Hart is first name on the team-sheet. A ‘keeper with fantastic shot stopping ability, and an exceptionally cool head for his age
  • Steven Gerrard (c), Liverpool, midfielder – experienced and level-headed, Gerrard is a player most supporters would include in the England team. Radar-like passing precision and an eye for goal, Gerrard remains the key man in England’s midfield although there are question marks over the player’s fitness
  • Wayne Rooney, Manchester United, forward – no mention of ‘key men’ can be made without including ‘Wazza’ despite the striker being ruled out for England’s first two games due to suspension. The United striker is vital if England is the progress in the tournament, with Rooney’s  genius on and off the ball set for the big stage after a few week’s  rest.

United Interest: United youngster Danny Welbeck is set to lead the line for England. After a promising full season at Old Trafford, in which Welbeck bagged nine goals, the striker scored a ‘Messi-like’ chip against Belgium in a recent friendly to leave the forward full of confidence and ready to test himself against Europe’s best.

Random Fact: Stewart Downing’s father, also called Stewart, predicted his son would create 20 Andy Carroll goals in the past season. In reality, Downing to Carroll assists totalled zero. Downing to anybody assists also totalled zero for that matter!

Defining Euro moment: the penalty misses against arch rivals Germany in the semi-final at Euro 96 cost England a place in the Wembley final.

Betting: 14/1

 

Sweden

Words by Rob Burnett, whom can be found at his blog and on Twitter!

The Swedes have made four appearances at the Euros –  in 1992 as hosts, followed by 2000, 2004 and 2008, with a best placed finish being the semi-finals, knocking out Graham Taylor’s England on the way, 20 years ago. Sweden had a successful qualifying campaign, winning eight out of 10 games, and beating Netherlands to end the Dutch 17 game unbeaten streak. It proved to be a vital win, ensuring Sweden gained automatic qualification as the ‘best loser’, dodging the play-offs. Rank outsiders perhaps, but Sweden has the ability to pull off surprise this summer with a team that is very hard to break down. Only four of the 23 players in the squad have less than 10 caps.

Last five matches: (W) Bahrain 2-0 | (W) Qatar U23 5-0 | (W) Croatia 3-1 |(W) Iceland 3-2 | (W) Serbia 2-1

FIFA Ranking: 17

Nickname: Blågult (The Blue-Yellow)

Manager: Erik Hamren – took over after nine-year veteran Lars Lagerback resigned following Sweden’s disastrous 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Hugely experienced Scandinavian manager has won three Swedish cups, a Danish cup and back-to-back Norwegian Premier League titles. Sweden has been handed a tricky group, but Hamren’s style of play will prove hard for England, Ukraine and France to break down.

Key Players:

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic (c), Milan, forward – serial “honestly he’s really good” player will once again be out to prove his own hype! Ibra is now Sweden’s captain, and bagged a respectable five goals in qualifying. Frequently rumours of him move to United have never materialised
  • Sebastian Larsson, Sunderland, midfielder – former Arsenal and Birmingham City winger, who has now seemingly found his groove at Sunderland. Can be driving force on the wing, with a killer dead-ball delivery. Once described by Arsene Wenger as “probably the best free kick taker in the league”
  • Rasmus Elm, AZ Alkmaar, midfielder – labelled the biggest talent Sweden has produced since Ibrahimovic, Elm is a massive threat from midfield, with accuracy in the pass and quality from free-kicks. One of Europe’s hottest commodities this summer, with United, Liverpool and Spurs all reportedly sniffing around the AK player.

United interest: United has a brief history with Swedish players, including treble-winner Jesper Blomqvist and temporary striker Henrik Larsson.

Random Fact: Sweden’s assistant manager is former Aston Villa striker Marcus Allback.

Defining Euro moment: Tomas Brolin’s 82nd minute goal against England at Euro 92 sent the hosts sailing into the semi-final and ditched England out the group, dead last.

Betting: 66/1

 

Ukraine

Words by Ben Coates, whom can be found at his blog and on Twitter!

Ukraine has only been a national side in its own right for 20 years, having played its first international match on 29 April 29 1992 against Hungary. Euro 2012 will be the second time Ukraine has competed in a major tournament – Zhovto-Blakytni’s debut was in the World Cup 2006, where Ukraine reached the quarter-final.

Last five matches: (D) Germany 3-3 | (W) Austria 2-0 | (W) Israel 3-2 | (W) Estonia 4-0 | (L) Austria 3-2 | (W) Turkey 2-0

FIFA Ranking: 52

Nickname: Zbirna or Sbirna, (National Team)

Manager: Oleh Volodymyrovych “Oleg” Blokhin – formerly a standout striker for Dynamo Kyiv and the Soviet national team, being named European Footballer of the Year in 1975 he was named European Footballer of the Year to win the Ballon d’Or. He was the second Soviet, and the first Ukrainian player to achieve the feat.

Key Players:

  • Andriy Shevchenko, Dynamo Kyiv, forward – ex Chelsea striker was one of Roman Abramovich’s original investments, although Shevchenko’s career never really took off in England. Despite this Shevchenko can boast a very successful time in Italy with AC Milan, including winning the Champions League
  • Andriy Voronin, Dynamo Moscow, forward – a true superstar with Liverpool, where he sported a fantastic pony tail, and wore number 10! Well, he might have scored in a pre-season friendly of two! Far greater success has come in the Bundesliga for Mainz, Koln and Leverkusen
  • Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Bayern Munich, midfielder – a major part of Bayern’s run to the Champions League final this year, and a hard-working player in the engine-room. If Ukraine is to progress this summer, Tymoshchuk is key.

United interest: Andrei Kanchelskis was a vital part of United’s success in the 1990s, when Sir Alex Ferguson often deployed two flying wingers. Kanchelskis never represented the country of his birth though, instead playing for Russia when the USSR split. Scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition of United’s arch neighbours, Manchester City.

Random fact: 21 of 23 playing squad members play in the Ukrainian league.

Defining Euro moment: Securing the rights to Euro 2012 – it will be the nation’s debut in the tournament!

Betting: 60/1

 

France

Words by Thomas Willoughby, whom can be found on Twitter!

Two-time European Championship winners in 1984 and 2000, France had a decent qualifying campaign, winning six of 10 matches, and only losing once to Belarus. France finished top of the qualification group by a solitary point, and join England, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine in the tournament proper. France has seen a major footballing revolution under Laurent Blanc, casting out Raymond Domanech’s odd ‘methods’ to focus on player form rather than star signs! France is on a 23-game unbeaten run, beating Germany on the way.

Last five matches: (W) Estonia 4-0 | (W) Serbia 2-0 | (W) Iceland 3-2 | (W) Germany 2-1 | (D) Belgium 0-0

FIFA Ranking: 16

Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)

Manager: Laurent Blanc – took over after the travesty of 2010. And Blanc deserves huge praise for the drastic improvement seen in the French national side in the past two years. A former United centre-back, French captain, and Ligue 1 winner with Bordeaux as manager, Blanc can draw upon vast experience to motivate his squad. Blanc’s side plays attractive attacking football, while remaining difficult to break down at the back. Potential successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford?

Key Players:

  • Hugo Lloris (c), Olympique Lyonnais, goalkeeper – French captain at just 25, with more than a decade ahead of him in the game. Proven in the Champions League with Lyon, and often considered one of the world’s  best ‘keepers in the world. Worth a punt for the Golden Glove
  • Samir Nasri, Manchester City, midfielder – a key component in City’s Premier League title last season. Nasri is on the verge of becoming the complete attacking midfielder – can score, create, with decent pace. Nasri is a fantastic tournament away from being one of the best. If only he’d chosen United…
  • Karim Benzema, Real Madrid, forward – another ‘one that got away’, Benzema had a slow start to his Madrid career, yet has turned it around in the last season, netting 67 goals in 133 appearances overall for Los Merengues. Powerful and deadly in the 18-yard-box – could score a a hatful of goals.

United interest: Patrice Evra captained United for much of last season. The speedy left-back has suffered a very patchy time with France though after being fingered for a key role in the ‘revolts’ of 2010. Suffered a five-match international ban, but back in the squad and set to start the tournament. Could play a key role if France goes far in the competition.

Random Fact: France haven’t progressed from the group stage of a major tournament since making the World Cup final in 2006.

Defining Euro Moment: Sylvain Wiltord’s last-gasp equalizer against Italy in Euro 2000. Trezeguet would score a golden goal in extra time, but, in truth, France had it won with the equalizer.

Betting: 10/1

Team-by-team Euro guide: Group A

June 7, 2012 Tags: , International 1 comment

Euro 2012 is around the corner, with 16 national teams heading to bases in Poland and Ukraine ready for the big kick on Friday. And while we’re firmly Manchester United focused here at Rant, we’ll be covering the tournament in full: current and former Reds on show, with luck some outstanding football, and a big old trophy to be won! Spain defend the tournament won in Austria and Switzerland – Fernando Torres scoring the only goal of the game as La Roja beat Germany in the Vienna final. Indeed, Spain remain the bookies favourites four years on, although Germany, Holland, Italy and France will each harbour some hope. England – not so much.

In Rant’s team-by-team preview we assess each side’s chances, pick out the key players and recall some favourite moments.

 

Group A – Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Russia
 

Czech Republic

Words by Guy Bottomley, whom you can follow at Sporting Ketchup and on Twitter!

Gone are the days of Pavel Nedved and Patrick Berger, and by the looks of the current squad, the Czech’s have made little progress replacing them. Coming second in qualifying to world champions Spain, Czech Republic had to rely on a playoff win against Montenegro to cement a place at Euro 2012. With preparations for the competition culminating in a home loss to Hungary, it’s difficult to foresee the Czech’s doing anything extraordinary in Poland and Ukraine. Frequently a pundit’s ‘dark horse’ bet in previous international tournaments, the Czech’s know how to get to the latter stages of tournaments, but a lack of match winners this time round points to a group stage exit.

Last 5 Matches: (L) Hungary 2-1, (W) Israel 2-1, (D) Republic Of Ireland 1-1, (W) Montenegro 1-0, (W) Montenegro 2-0

Fifa Ranking: 26

Nickname: Narod’ak (The National Team)

Manager: Michal Bilek – no, not a badly typed Michael Ballack – took control of the Czech’s before qualifying, but was faced with the problem of replacing four of his best players who had retired – all time leading scorer Jan Koller, Marek Jankulovski, Tomas Galasek and Tomas Ujfalusi. Not exactly minor players.  Bilek has been on the end of some harsh criticism in Czech Republic of late, but considering the resources available he hasn’t done too badly at all. Deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation, with a blend of youth and experience, Bilek  has gone some way to plugging the gaps in his team.

Key Players:

  • Petr Cech, Chelsea, goalkeeper – first name on the team sheet, and Champions League winning goalkeeper, Petr Cech is vital if the Czech Republic is to make it out of the group stages. Perhaps less of a ‘keeper than before an awful skull injury in 2006, but experienced, level-headed and a phenomenal shot stopper. Cech is likely to be very busy this summer.
  • Tomas Rosicky, Arsenal, midfielder – despite going off the boil in the past 18 months, Rosicky ended the Premier League season with a string of strong performances for Arsenal. Yet to prove he is the same player Arsenal brought to the Emirates, but in a Czech side lacking that bit of creativity, Rosicky may just be the one to provide it. Surely his last big chance to shine on the international stage.
  • Daniel Kolář, FC Viktoria Plzeň, midfielder – gained admirers after some strong performances in the Champions League with Plzen. A very quick, attacking, midfielder with an eye for goal, Kolar could be that spark that the Czech Republic need so badly this summer. A strong bet to be the Czech’s top scorer.

United Interest: Tomas Pekhart was rumoured to be a target for the Reds following an impressive showing at the U20 World Cup five years ago. The most notable link between United and Czech Republic is the one, and only, Karel Poborsky, who scored a ridiculous chip in Euro 96 against Portugal.

Random Fact: Czech people drink more beer than anyone else in the world. That may go some way to explaining the genetic make-up of the aforementioned Poborsky.

Defining Euro Moment: Finishing runners-up to Germany at Euro 96. (Czechoslovakia won the tournament in 1976, beating Germany on penalties…)

Betting: 50/1

 

Greece

Words by Chris Steriopulos, whom can be found at his blog and on Twitter, and by Alan Robbins, whom can be found on Twitter!

The surprise Euro 2004 winners have qualified for the last three major international tournaments. Trips to Euro 2008, WC 2010 and now Euro 2012 have eclipsed the nation’s pre-2004 record of one finals in over twenty years. The ageing side, which is captained by 2004 hero, 117 cap Giorgos Karagounis, is lucky to be placed in the easiest group in the finals. Greece will be hoping for a spirited display in three games against Poland, Czech Republic and Russia. A passage into the quarter-finals is not out of the realm of possibility, but a group exit is the more likely scenario.

Last five matches: (D) 1-1 Russia | (L) 1-3 Romania | (D) 1-1 Belgium | (D) 1-1 Slovenia | (W) 0-1 Armenia

FIFA Ranking: 15

Nickname:  Galanolefki (Blue-White)

Manager: Replacing the legend, “King Otto” Rehhagel, as manager is Portuguese boss Fernando Santos, who has done a solid job to date. Previously Santos had managed the Athens giants AEK and Panathinaikos, as well as Benfica. Santos’ last managerial assignment was at another Greek club PAOK. The coach has only suffered just one defeat in his reign as Greek manager, with a record of 10 wins, seven draws, and the one loss against Romania late in 2011.

Key Players:

  • Giorgos Samaras, Celtic, striker –  27-year-old, 6ft 4in, former Manchester City striker Samaras has scored just seven in 54 international appearances, but can be a threat from set-pieces
  • Giorgos Karagounis, Panathinaikos, midfielder – in his second spell at the Athens club, and now 35, Karagounis remains an instrumental member of the Greek side. Karagounis will need all his experience and skill to help his troubled homeland out of the group stages
  • Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Schalke, defender – the 20-year-old defender has taken advantage of injuries in the Blue and White’s back-four to stake a claim for a starting berth.  Papadopoulos played in the Schalke side that reached the Champions League semi-final in 2011. Euro 2012 finals will be another welcome addition to a blossoming CV
  • Theofanis Gekas, unattached, forward – the much-travelled striker is playing to earn a contract going into Euro 2012. The former Eintract Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin, Panathinaikos, VfL Bochum and Bayer Leverkusen man was released by Samsunspor recently after a short-term deal with the Turkish side. A record of 58 caps and 21 goals is solid, and Gekas has scored goals wherever he’s played.

United interest: flying winger Soritis Ninis was linked with United in 2010-2011, and he fit the bill – young, skilful and versatile. However it looks like Ninis will join Italians Parma following the expiration of his contract. United’s loss could well be Parma’s gain.

Random fact: prior to winning the tournament in 2004 Greece had never won a match in the tournament

Defining Euro moment: Angelos Charisteas’ headed goal to win Euro 2004 in Portugal. Rival Denmark as the most unlikely major tournament winners in international football history.

Betting: 100/1

 

Poland

Words by Lewis Taylor, whom can be found on Twitter!

Poland failed to qualify for any Euro tournament between 1960 and 2004, before reaching Euro 2008 only to go out at the group state. As co-hosts with neighboring country Ukraine, Poland will hope for better fortunes this time around. But with little competitive football, and one of the weakest looking squads in the competition few hold out hope for the hosts’ progress.

Last five matches: (W) Bosnia-Herzegovina  | (D) 0-0 Portugal , (W) 1-0 Latvia, (W) 1-0 Slovakia,(W) 4-0 Andorra.

FIFA Ranking: 65

Nickname: Biało-czerwoni (The white and reds)

Manager: Franciszek Smuda – incredibly veteran coach Smuda is in to his 20th job as a manager, although most have come in his native country. Most recently Smuda was sacked by Lech Poznań before taking on the national job. Won the Polish League in 1996 and 1997, and as a German passport holders, ranks of one of very few Poles not to have switched nationality in recent years.

Key Players:

  • Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal, goalkeeper –  Highly rated young ‘keeper who has claimed a place between the sticks for both Arsenal and the national team over the past 18 months. Safe hands, and comfortable under the high ball, Szczesny is set for a very busy summer. Essential if Poland is to progress in the tournament
  • Łukasz Piszczek, Borussia Dortmund, defender – outstanding right back who has been a part of the German champions’ team since a 2010 move from Hertha Berlin. Most pundits’ choice as the leading right-back in the Bundesliga
  • Jakub Błaszczykowski (c), Borussia Dortmund, midfielder – another player from the German champions and a key cog in midfield at both club and national level. Perhaps only second to Szczesny in importance to the hosts’ chances this summer
  • Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund, forward – the man who fired BVB to the title last season, scoring 2 Bundesliga goals in the process. Fox in the box, and one to watch if Poland is to make it past the group stages for the first time!

United interest: in addition to securing Shinji Kagawa, the Reds have been ‘linked’ with a move for Lewandowski in the press.

Random fact: Poland won the third placed play-off in the 1982 World Cup, beating Brazil 1-0.

Defining Euro moment: Qualifying ahead of Portugal in qualification for Euro 2008.

Betting: 50/1

 

Russia

Words by Ben Coates, whom can be found at his blog and on Twitter!

Russia has only been a national side in its own right for the past 20 years, playing its first international match on 16 August 1992, beating Mexico 2-0. Euro 2012 will be the sixth time Russia has competed in a major tournament, including two World Cup’s (1994 and 2002) and four Euros (1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012). Russia’s best performance came in 2008 when the country reached the semi-final.

Last five matches: (D) Greece 1-1 | (W) Denmark 2-0 | (D) Uruguay 1-1 | (D) Lithuania 0-0 | (W) Italy 3-0

FIFA Ranking: 13

Nickname: Sbornaya (Team or Selection)

Manager: Dick Advocaat – was a moderately successful player, but is far better known as a coach, which has included two stints with the Dutch national team. Advocaat has coached a number of clubs in the Netherlands and abroad, including Russian club Zenit Saint Petersburg, with whom he won the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, as well as the national teams of a number of other countries, including South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Belgium. Advocaat is also well-remembered in Britain for his time at Rangers, where he secured treble in his first year in charge.

Key Players:

  • Andrei Arshavin, Arsenal, forward – the talented attacking player has frustrated Arsenal fans for years. Sometimes a match winner – he once scored four goals  at Anfield – yet too often  considered lazy and disinterested. Excelled in 2008, could this be the Russian’s last big stage?
  • Roman Pavlyuchenko, Lokomotiv Moscow, forward – the big blonde striker that shot to fame by scoring goals against England in  Euro 2008 qualification, which contributed towards England failing to make it to the tournament. Pavlyuchenko scored a decent share of goals at Spurs, but spent much of his time on the bench. Strong-as-an-ox, with an eye for goal, and an outside bet for the tournament’s top goal scorer
  • Pavel Pogrebnyak, Fulham, forward – burst onto the scene during 2011/12 Premier League season at Fulham, scoring freely from January onwards. Will form a potent trio of goalscorers in Russia’s armory.

United interest: Who can forget the Reds’ Champions League triumph in Moscow, 2008, which is etched into most fans’ memories!

Random fact: 20 of 23 playing squad members earn a living in Russia.

Defining Euro moment: Beating Holland, who were tournament favourites, 3-1 in Euro 2008 quarter-final.

Betting: 20/1

Team-by-team Euro guide: Group C

June 6, 2012 Tags: , International No comments

Euro 2012 is around the corner, with 16 national teams heading to bases in Poland and Ukraine ready for the big kick on Friday. And while we’re firmly Manchester United focused here at Rant, we’ll be covering the tournament in full: current and former Reds on show, with luck some outstanding football, and a big old trophy to be won! Spain defend the tournament won in Austria and Switzerland – Fernando Torres scoring the only goal of the game as La Roja beat Germany in the Vienna final. Indeed, Spain remain the bookies favourites four years on, although Germany, Holland, Italy and France will each harbour some hope. England – not so much.

In Rant’s team-by-team preview we assess each side’s chances, pick out the key players and recall some favourite moments.

 
Group C – Croatia, Spain, Italy, Ireland
 
Croatia

Vatreni qualified via the play-offs beating Turkey 3-0 on aggregate over two legs after finishing second behind Greece in qualification. Goalscoring has been Croatia’s major concern, with midfielder Niko Krancjar top goalscorer in qualification. Former Arsenal man Eduardo will be supported by the prolific Nikica Jelavić during the tournament, but can the Everton man transfer club form to the international stage for the first time with Ivica Olić injured?

Last five matches: Turkey W 3 – 0 | Turkey D 0 – 0 | Sweden L 1 – 3  |  Estonia W 3 – 1 | Norway D 1 – 1

FIFA Ranking: 8

Nickname: Vatreni (The Blazers)

Manager: Slaven Bilic – the former West Ham United defender has led his country since 2006, remaining in charge despite plenty of offers from club football. It’s been a mixed period with Croatia making it out of the group stage at Euro 2008, before failing to qualify for World Cup 2010. Bilic will step down after the tournament to take charge of Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow.

Key players:

  • Luka Modrić – the Tottenham Hotspur man remains Croatia’s metronome in midfield. Critics point to Modrić’s poor goalscoring record for a creative player, but the midfielder’s ability to pass, move and dictate play marks him out as a potential tournament star
  • Darijo Srna (c) – the experienced defender will lead his team into the tournament with more hope than expectation. Key to Croatia’s ability to remain defensively sound during the tournament
  • Nikica Jelavić – can the Everton forward transplant an outstanding season to the international stage? He may need to with Bayern Munich man Olić out of the tournament

United interest: Sir Alex retains an ongoing interest in Modric, although he is unlikely to ever bring the 26-year-old to Old Trafford.

Random fact: the country’s top goalscorer Davor Šuker played twice for Yugoslavia before Croatia’s first official international match in 1990.

Defining Euro moment: Šuker’s wonderful lob over Peter Schmeichel in Croatia’s 3–0 win over reigning champions Denmark in 1996.

Betting: 50/1

 

Spain

The Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 winners retain a core group of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid that make Spain many pundits’ favourites once again in 2012. There is undoubted quality in-depth, with a passing system that is hard to combat. But will David Villa’s injury blunt Spain’s cutting edge, especially against teams that will inevitably park the bus? Perhaps the final tournament for Spain’s Golden Era.

Last five matches: Costa Rica D 2-2 | 5 – 0 W Venezuela | Serbia W 0 – 2 | South Korea W 1 – 4 | China  W 1 – 0

FIFA Ranking: 1

Nickname: La Roja

Manager: Vicente del Bosque – World champion, twice La Liga winner, and twice Champions League winner, del Bosque’s record is almost unsurpassed. Perhaps key, however, to del Bosque’s success with the national team is to have adopted wholesale Barcelona’s tiki-taka style and tactical system, and changing very little from Luis Arogones’ Euro 2008 winning side. Arguably faces his greatest challenge in the past four years with a Spanish team missing key players.

Key players:

  • Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona, midfielder – still the midfield master, who’s near perfect passing sets the tone for the Spanish team. Injury and potential burn-out after four years of near constant football are a worry, but still essential to Spain’s chances this summer
  • Andreas Iniesta, Barcelona, midfielder – Spain’s cutting edge from midfield, who’s goals may be key in David Villa’s absence. Can play central or wide depending on del Bosque’s formation
  • Fernando Torres, Chelsea, forward – it has not been the greatest 18 months for the £50 million Chelsea forward, but better form and two cup competition victories have boosted Torres’ confidence at a crucial time. Must find goalscoring touch if Spain is the retain the title.

United interest: Gerard Piqué – the former United youngster has gone on to many bigger and better things with Barcelona. What could have been.

Random fact: The national team did not play a full international match until 1920 when Spain beat Denmark 1–0 in the Olympic Games.

Defining Euro moment: Fernando Torres’ 33rd minute strike in the final of Euro 2008 to beat Germany 1–0 in Vienna.

Betting: 3/1

 

Italy

Italy ran away with a qualification group that boasted very little quality – the Azzurri beat Estonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Northern Ireland, and the Faroes. Just two goals conceded in the process suggests the Italy of old, but this is little more than an Italian cliché with Serie A undergoing an attacking renaissance. Can Italy win it? Logic says probably not, but Cessare Prandelli has the team winning again after the disaster of the 2010 World Cup.

Last five matches: Serbia D 1–1 | Northern Ireland W 3–0 | Poland W 2–0 | Uruguay L 0–1 | United States L 0–1

FIFA Ranking: 12

Nickname: Azzurri (The Blues)

Manager: Cesare Prandelli – the experienced journeyman coach is now in his seventh major job. But Prandelli has fashioned an Italian side that has regained some pride after the disastrous 2010 World Cup where the Italians finished bottom of the group. Prandelli hasn’t won a thing in his career bar two Serie B titles – and that’s very rare for an Italian national team manager.

Players:

  • Andrea Barzagli, Juventus, defender – an outstanding central defender who has just completed a superb season for Juventus at the back. Key  to Italy’s tight defence during qualification
  • Andrea Pirlo, Juventus, midfielder – the deep-lying play maker around whom all Italy’s tactics are based, and whom is key to Italy’s success. Premature injury would surely end Italy’s hopes
  • Antonio Di Natale, Udinese, forward – ageing striker who has not always been appreciated at international level, but scored plenty of goals for Udinese in last few years

United interest: nothing to see here, especially after Giuseppe Rossi was ruled out of the tournament through injury, although Mario Ballotelli – the player all Reds love to hate – is in Italy’s squad.

Random fact: 1968 is the only time that Italy has won the tournament, beating Yugoslavia in the final. However, this was a three game tournament in which Italy just once, and scored only three goals!

Defining Euro moment: Despite ’68 the defining modern moment came in 2000 when David Trezeqguet lashed home a golden-goal for France to win the tournament.

Betting: 16/1

 

Republic of Ireland

Words by Jonathan Cooksey, whom you can follow of Twitter here!

Despite having failed to qualify for 13 out of the 14 Euro Championships since its inception in 1960, Ireland had an impressive qualification campaign winning six of 10 games, drawing three and losing just once to eventual group winners Russia. Ireland scored 20 goals and conceded just eight times on the road to Poland and Ukraine, with the team’s vast experience at the back a vital component of the achievement. Shay Given, Richard Dunne and John O’Shea remain pivotal figures, and under Trapattoni, Ireland have employed an offensive strategy based around counter attacking football – a tactic that is unlikely to be abandoned in games against Croatia, Italy and Spain.

Last five matches: Estonia W 0-4 | Estonia D 1-1 | Czech Republic D 1–1 | Bosnia and Herzegovina W 1–0 | Hungary D 0-0

FIFA Ranking: 18

Nickname: The Boys in Green

Manager: Giovanni Trappatoni – replaced Steve Staunton as manager in February of 2008, following a disappointing spell under the former Liverpool defender. Under Trappatoni’s guidance Ireland impressively completed a 10 game 2010 World Cup qualification campaign unbeaten, missing out on a spot in South Africa thanks to that Thierry Henry handball. That is all behind the Irish now though, with the team qualifying for a first Euro Championship in 24 years.

Key players:

  • Shay Given, Aston Villa, goalkeeper – with a 122 international appearances, making him Ireland’s most capped player of all time, the shot-stopper is one of the cornerstones of this Irish team. Given is as reliable as death and taxes for club and country even as he approaches his 37th birthday. The Aston Villa player also donates his international match day fees to charity – one of footballs genuine good guys*.
  • Richard Dunne , Aston Villa, defender – much like his Aston Villa teammate, a central figure in the Irish defence that in qualification maintained an impressive 5 clean sheets. The teams “modus operandi” is based around Trapattoni’s counter attacking style. One he must help employ if they are to have any hope of escaping the “group of death”.
  • Robbie Keane, Los Angeles Galaxy, forward – Ireland’s all-time top scorer with an impressive 53 goals in a 117 appearances. Ireland will need the USA-based striker to carry the sort of form demonstrated in qualification where Keane bagged seven goals – the same tally as Ronaldo – in a team that often struggles to create chances
[*Insert Daily Star ‘exclusive’ defaming Shay Given here!]

Defining euro moment: Ray Houghton’s sixth minute winning header against England at Euro ’88. Oh how the Guinness must have flowed!

United interest: While Paul McShane and Darron Gibson are in the squad, it’s United’s old ‘handyman’ John O’Shea whom Reds should cheer on. Despite being on the end of much criticism in his last few years at Old Trafford, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to “Max & Paddy’s” mongrel child, O’Shea offered United fans many special moments in nearly 400 appearances – the nutmeg on Figo nutmeg and that chip against Arsenal at Highbury. Magic!

Random fact: Kevin Doyle committed more fouls in qualification than any other player with 28.

Betting: 100/1

Team-by-team Euro guide: Group B

June 6, 2012 Tags: , International 19 comments

Euro 2012 is around the corner, with 16 national teams heading to bases in Poland and Ukraine ready for the big kick on Friday. And while we’re firmly Manchester United focused here at Rant, we’ll be covering the tournament in full: current and former Reds on show, with luck some outstanding football, and a big old trophy to be won! Spain defend the tournament won in Austria and Switzerland – Fernando Torres scoring the only goal of the game as La Roja beat Germany in the Vienna final. Indeed, Spain remain the bookies favourites four years on, although Germany, Holland, Italy and France will each harbour some hope. England – not so much.

In Rant’s team-by-team preview we assess each side’s chances, pick out the key players and recall some favourite moments.

Group B – Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal

 
Denmark

The Danes did well to qualify ahead of Portugal, but can Morten Olsen’s side score enough goals to make it through the clichéd ‘group of death’? Denmark scored just 15 in eight qualification matches, with a tactical system based on a solid defence in the typical ‘Olsen Gang’ style. However, in Christian Eriksen the Danes possess one of the most exciting young creative midfielders in the tournament.

Last five matches: Sweden W 2–0 | Finland W 2–1 | Russia L 0-2 | Brazil L 1-3 | Australia W 2-0

FIFA Ranking: 9

Nickname: De Rød-Hvide (The Red and Whites)

Manager: Morten Olsen – manager for 12 years, although may step down after the tournament much as the 62-year-old promised to do following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Olsen had an outstanding playing career, earning more than 100 caps for his country, and his teams have followed a pattern of solid if at times functional football through a long-managerial career with Brøndby, FC Köln and Ajax.

Key players:

  • Cristien Eriksen, Ajax, midfielder – nimble with good feet, can score and create goals. Eriksen is much coveted across Europe and an outstanding tournament may yet see Ajax inundated with offers for the 20-year-old
  • Simon Kjaer, Wolfsburg/Roma, defender – Kjaer had a really good World Cup in 2010 before making a surprise move from Palermo to Wolfsburg. Has spent the season on loan at Roma and publicly stated he does not want to return to Germany
  • Daniel Agger (c), Liverpool, defender – Agger will be key to Denmark’s progress in the tournament, with the Liverpool defender the rock on which the Danes will keep it tight at the back

United interest: Anders Lindegaard who will be reserve keeper. Kasper Schmeichel, son of Peter, is also in the squad – tenuous link alert!

Random fact: Four players in the squad play at French club Evian, which begs the question of why the Danes don’t play with a more fluid style?!

Defining Euro moment: winning Euro 1992 after being called up from the beach!

Betting: 100/1

 
Germany

Three times winners of the Euros in 1972, 1980, and 1996, and boasting an outstanding qualification campaign with 10 wins in 10 games, 34 goals and just seven against. No wonder Germany are many pundit’s favourites for the tournament. Coach Jogi Löw has built on the exciting young side that performed ahead of expectations in World Cup in 2010. At the same time there is huge experience in the squad with seven of the top 20 most capped players in Germany’s history in Löw’s party.

Last five matches: Ukraine D 3–3 | 3–0 W Netherlands | 1–2 L France | Switzerland L 5–3 | 2–0 W Israel

FIFA Ranking: 2

Nickname: Die Mannschaft (The Team)

Manager: Joachim Löw –  improved upon Jurgen Klinnsman’s outfit when the former striker walked away in 2008. In tandem with Klinnsman, Löw developed Germany’s fast-paced attacking style that won over plenty of fans in South Africa. Looks set to build another German dynasty with the current team – Germany’s best since the 1990s.

Key players:

  • Phillip Lahm, Bayern Munich, defender – Germany’s captain is one of world football’s truly outstanding full-backs, working off either side of the pitch. Leader, talisman, and all round good egg. Lahm keeps the team together off the pitch, with egos firmly in check. What would Fergie give to have him at Old Trafford? A lot
  • Mesut Özil, Real Madrid, midfielder – the outstanding young German playmaker has just completed much better second season in Spain than his first. Özil remains the creative hub from the centre, or drifting in from wide areas. The player Ferguson calls “the ghost” is fantastic to watch, and seems to have fixed a stamina problem – due a big tournament
  • Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich, forward – will start on the right of a three-man attack, but may come under pressure from Mario Gotze if the Bayern man doesn’t start the tournament well. Is Muller a striker or midfielder or a bit of both? Either way, Muller is yet another talented young attacking German.

United interest: Ron-Robert Zieler may be named after a smalltown hick, but the former United trainee has done very well back home in Germany following a move to Hannover in 2009. Third choice ‘keeper for Germany this summer.

Random fact: Despite being, well, rubbish Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski have 106 international goals between them!

Defining Euro moment: Oliver Bierhoff’s 95th minute golden-goal to win Euro 1996 against Czech Republic.

Betting: 10/3

 
Netherlands

1988 Euro winners Holland have built on a superb World Cup tournament in 2010. Although many remember the Dutch’s thuggish display against Spain in the final, Bert van Marwijk’s team played some fine football during the tournament too. Holland emerged victorious in nine of 10 games in qualification to top the group. Many people’s favourites for the tournament even if the back-four contains some less-than-stellar names.

Last five matches: England W 2-3 | Germany L 3-2 |  Bulgaria L 1-2 | Slovakia W 2-0 |  Northern Ireland W 6-0

FIFA Ranking: 4

Nickname: Oranje

Manager: Bert van Marwijk – it’s hard to call van Marwijk’s a stellar career, and it is perhaps it was a symptom of Dutch football’s low point after Euro 2008 that the former Feyenoord man got the job at all. van Marwijk made his name at Feyenoord in the early 2000s, but had a less than successful time at Borussia Dortmund. Has turned the Oranje around though, returning the team to its roots of fluid attacking football based on a young vibrant team.

Key players:

  • Wesley Sneijder, Internazionale, midfielder – still Holland’s creative hub around whom van Marwijk’s team is built. If Sneijder plays, so does Holland. Five goals at World Cup 2010, but lots on injury problems since too
  • Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich, midfielder – selfish, wasteful and devastating all in the same bald-headed package. Which Robben will turn up in Poland and Ukraine? Too often shoots when he should pass, and has spent a career battling injuries. But when he can do this little else matters
  • Robin van Persie, Arsenal, forward – the Arsenal striker will share goalscoring duties with Jan-Klaas Huntelar at the tournament. Indeed, the Arsenal man has a less-than-stellar international goalscoring record. Still, just had the best season of his career – should be his time to shine.

United interest: Robben once turned down United after Sir Alex showed the youngster around Old Trafford – choosing Roman Abramovich’s filthy lucre instead.

Random fact: Left-back Jetro Willems will be the youngest player at the tournament having only just turned 18.

Defining Euro moment: Marco van Basten’s outrageous volley in the final of Euro 88 – still one of the best goals ever.

Betting: 7/1

 
Portugal

Portugal had to make it through the play-offs to qualify for Euro 2012 after a dispiriting period under former United assistant Carlos Quieroz. For a team with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, Portugal has under-achieved in the past two years, although the mitigation of multiple retirements post World Cup 2010 is fair. Scored plenty of goals during qualification, but also conceded too. Much will depend whether Pepe can replicate his Real Madrid form at the back, and Ronaldo can keep scoring. Third favourites in the group – and that might be generous given that Denmark beat Portugal to qualification.

Last five matches: Bosnia and Herzegovina D 0-0 D | Bosnia and Herzegovina W 6-2 | Poland D 0-0 | Macedonia D 0-0 |  Turkey L 1-3

FIFA Ranking: 10

Nickname: A Selecção (The Selection)

Manager: Paulo Bento – one of the youngest managers at the tournament. Bento was a gritty defensive midfielder for Sporting, Benfica, and the national team before retiring at the age of 35. First took charge of Sporting’s youth team, before a successful spell as head coach of the first team that included two Portuguese Cups and two Supercups. Bento couldn’t win the Portuguese League, however, before taking over from Quieroz in 2010.

Key players:

  • Ronaldo, Real Madrid, forward – much will ride on the former United player’s ability to both lead his team, and score enough goals to keep Selecção in the tournament past the group stage. Just completed a fantastic season with 60 goals in all competitions. Will this be the tournament in which Ronaldo emerges from Lionel Messi’s long shadow?
  • Nani, Manchester United, forward – the United winger is brilliant and frustrating in equal measure. Contract negotiations may be ongoing at Old Trafford, but can Nani justify his self-hype with performances in this tournament?
  • Pepe, Real Madrid, defender – Real’s provocateur-in-chief is certain to be many neutral’s bête noire, but he is still central to Portugal’s ability to make it out of the group. Ronaldo et al should provide a threat if Pepe can marshal the back-four to keep more clean sheets than in qualification.

United interest: Nani, Ronaldo – see above!

Random fact: Portugal 0–10 England, Lisbon, Portugal, 25 May 1947 remains Selecção’s biggest ever loss.

Defining Euro moment: Angelos Charisteas’ 57th minute goal for Greece that won Euro 2004, and Ronaldo’s tears that followed.

Betting: 20/1

Ferdinand’s dignified silence in the face of Hodgson’s “total lack of respect”

June 4, 2012 Tags: , , , , International, Opinion 64 comments

On the Thames this past Sunday more than 1,000 boats, canoes and ships followed the Queen’s gold-adorned barge from Battersea to Tower Bridge in the first mass flotilla on London’s artery for more than 300 years. The outpouring of national pride and ubiquitous presence of the Union Flag, so infrequently displayed on these shores, was more akin to a sporting contest, than a Monarch’s anniversary.

As ever – for this is a British summer after all – the weather threatened to spoil the occasion, which had been planned, by some, for months if not years. Despite the autumnal weather, driving rain, and high tide none of the throng is believed to have sunk.

It’s hard to draw the same conclusion about the Football Association’s public relations department though, which is going down without a trace this summer. Not so much light drizzle at FA HQ, but a force 10 gale.

First, the FA bungled its decision to strip John Terry of the England team captaincy this summer; attempting to strike a balance between accepting a man’s innocent until proven otherwise, and protecting the national game’s already tarnished image. The governing body did neither, fudging the only acceptable decision, which was to leave Terry at home while the criminal case surrounding the Chelsea captain’s alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand was concluded.

Worse still, in ‘protecting’ Terry the FA has run roughshod over 81-cap Rio Ferdinand – a player, who despite an unprecedented FA ban and national team exclusion for missing a mandatory drugs test in 2003, has given everything and more for the national shirt. Plenty of Manchester United supporters have little love to lose for England, and indeed the player’s international career could have come to an end earlier, but Ferdinand has never hidden his passion for the Three Lions.

Yet, when Ferdinand was unexpectedly not selected for England’s European Championship squad on the ill-hidden pretence of “football reasons” the defender held his tongue with a dignified silence. Few players with Ferdinand’s global media appeal, and huge audience, would have refrained from hitting the tabloids.

There seemed little justification for the omission on any grounds, least of all quality or fitness. After all, having played in each of of United’s last 16 Premier League matches in the season just finished – and been an outstanding performer to boot – there was little reason to believe Ferdinand had not earned his place in Hodgson’s side, let alone squad. Four games in 13 days over Easter proved Ferdinand’s ability to complete several matches in a short time-frame, whatever Sir Alex Ferguson’s observation to the contrary.

Indeed, while many excluded players had already departed on summer holidays to popular footballers’ destinations such as Aya Napa, Miami Beach and the Gulf, Ferdinand has been training. Hard. The 33-year-old former West Ham United defender even played in Park Ji-Sung’s charity match in Bangkok, while maintaining championship levels of fitness.

The insult of being excluded from Hodgson’s initial squad was compounded on Sunday when Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, injured against Belgium during England’s tedious 1-0 win at Wembley on Saturday, was ruled out of the Championships with a broken jaw. Would Ferdinand be called up as an experienced alternative? Not a chance, with Hodgson instead selecting Liverpool’s reserve right-back Martin Kelly. A fine player though the 22-year-old may become, Kelly started just 10 Premier League games in the past season and has just two minutes international experience.

“Football reasons,” Hodgson had stated. “What reasons????!!!” retorted Ferdinand on Twitter, Sunday evening. And there was little surprise that the Ferdinand camp, although not the player, finally broke its silence following the latest snub. Enough was apparently, and finally, enough.

“Lampard, Terry, Barry, Gerrard; all ageing but they go to the tournament. Why is Rio different?” asked former Millwall midfielder, and Rio’s representative,Jamie Moralee. “To treat a player that has captained and served his country 81 times in this manner is nothing short of disgraceful. Total lack of respect from Hodgson and the FA as far as I am concerned.”

After all few now believe that Ferdinand has become anything bar the sacrificial lamb to protect Terry’s place in the England set-up. Rio dropped, essentially, for being the Anton’s brother. Race will play a key role in England’s team this summer after all.

And let there be no mistake that this was, on some level, Ferdinand’s decision – the United defender has always been willing to work with Terry despite the obvious enmity between the pair. In that there is no little disgrace; Ferdinand the martyr for Terry’s continued presence in the national side.

There could be long-term consequences in the FA’s stance though. After all, should the case go against 30-year-old Terry when court proceedings reconvene on 9 July England’s campaign will be forever be associated with a criminally guilty racist. Whether Terry is captain, or not.

In that scenario heads must surely roll at the FA. Perhaps even Hodgson’s. After all the former Liverpool manager, together with FA Chairman David Bernstein, have bet their chips on Terry in the face of national and global incredulity at Ferdinand’s omission.

Hodgson’s insistence – both in public and in a private phone call with the United defender – that football alone dictates the make-up of the national squad now flies in the face of common sense, and Ferdinand’s intelligence. Lingering suspicion of a conspiracy was all but confirmed with Kelly’s call-up on Sunday.

If the FA thought that stripping Terry of the captaincy would remove the focus on the Chelsea player’s upcoming court case then Ferdinand’s treatment has only intensified the spotlight. Indeed, Hodgson’s techy response to questions about Ferdinand’s omission when the England squad was announced in May will ill-become the 64-year-old coach during Euro 2012. But questions Hodgson will face, especially if Terry performs his usual tournament trick of being caught horribly out-of-position against any reasonably mobile or technical opponent.

Few United supporters will feel any sympathy for Hodgson though; this managerial crisis is of the coach’s own making.

Seven Reds up for Euro Cup

May 29, 2012 Tags: , International 20 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson was never one for international football, especially when it gets in the way of Manchester United’s priorities – like a kerching-tastic trip to China, South Africa and Norway this summer. The three-leg, 20,000 mile, summer tour will presumably will take place without those players on international duty at Euro 2012 and the Olympics, with tournament stars normally given additional time off by Ferguson to recuperate.

Good news for the Scot, then, that just seven Reds have been called up by the 16 teams taking part in Euro 2012, which gets underway in Poland and Ukraine on 8 June, while only Ryan Giggs and David de Gea are likely to play at the Olympics.

Indeed, when it comes to fatigue Ferguson will be delighted that just two of his players are guaranteed starters for the opening matches, while Wayne Rooney will sit out England’s games against France and Ukraine. Four further players are likely to start the tournament from the bench, and none are guaranteed qualification from the group stage.

A further six ex-Reds will also take part in the tournament, including some surprising names, ensuring a strong United interest in the tournament long after England has meekly departed the competition on matchday three!

Anders Lindegaard – Denmark – United’s 28-year-old stopper has recovered from a lengthy period out in time to make the Euro 2012 plane alongside fellow ‘keepers Stephan Andersen and Kasper Schmeichel. Lindegaard, who has five caps, is likely to start behind Anderson in the pecking order having spent much of the last four months on the sidelines. It’s no easy task for the Danes though having been drawn in the same group as Holland, Germany and Portugal.

Nani – Portugal – the winger is sure to start Portugal’s campaign in the same group as team-mate Lindegaard. The Portuguese qualified for the tournament via the play-offs, beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-2 on aggregate. But it was an unhappy qualifying campaign for Paulo Bento’s side, who finished behind Denmark in the group stage. Nani is likely to start alongside captain Cristiano Ronaldo and Hélder Postiga in attack.

Phil Jones – England – the £16.5 million former Blackburn Rovers defender-cum-midfielder is, perhaps, a surprise selection in Roy Hodgson’s squad given the youngster’s poor form during the run-in. But Jones’ energy and flexibility may yet prove important to England’s campaign, especially given injuries to Glenn Johnson and Gareth Barry. Should Scott Parker’s ankle problem relapse, Jones could even find himself playing in central midfield this summer – a position he struggled to master at Old Trafford last season.

Danny Welbeck – England – Welbeck, who is still nursing an angle injury inflicted by Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong, is likely to start the campaign behind Andy Carroll in the pecking order. Given the £35 million Liverpool striker’s wretched campaign this will surprise more than a few Reds. By contrast Welbeck performed admirably as United’s ‘number 9’ for much of the campaign just finished, completing an injury-disrupted season with 12 goals.

Wayne Rooney – England – the Scouser may have finished the season with just one yellow card in the Premier League, but a rash kick at Montenegrin defender Miodrag Dzudovic during England’s qualification match last October will cost Rooney appearances against France and Sweden. Rooney is sure to return for what is likely to be a decisive fixture with hosts Ukraine in Donetsk on 19 June. Whether Rooney’s return is too late for Hodgson’s side is yet to be seen, but Rooney is certainly due a better tournament than in 2010 or 2008.

Ashley Young – England – winger Young is probably his nation’s most in-form attacking player coming into the tournament, scoring a stunning goal in England’s recent friendly against Norway. The strike supplemented a fine selection of goals from the former Aston Villa man last season – a campaign that Young began and ended well, but in which he suffered a marked dip in form and fitness during the winter.

Patrice Evra – France – former captain Evra will enjoy the tournament without the pressure of Les Bleus’ captaincy. In South Africa two years ago Evra was caught in the middle of a row between players and staff, copping a lengthy ban from Fédération Française de Football (FFF) in the highly politicised fall-out after France’s early World Cup exit. This time out Evra will fight for a starting place with Manchester City’s Gael Clicy as France take on England, Ukraine and Sweden in Group D.

Ron-Robert Zieler – Germany/Hannover96 – former junior Zieler left Old Trafford without making a first team appearance only to carve out an outstanding career in the Budesliga. Will provide back-up to Manuel Neuer and Tim Wiese.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal/Real Madrid – has rarely looked back since leaving for Madrid in an £80 million deal three summers ago. But tournament football is yet to bring one of the world’s finest players any joy.

Gerard Piqué – Spain/Barcelona – left Old Trafford for ‘home’ without truly making it at United, but now a core piece of Spain’s defence. Suffered a mediocre campaign with Barcelona by the player’s very high standards last season.

John O’Shea – spent more than a decade with United without truly establishing himself as first choice in any position, yet appeared in more than 400 games. Can, and probably will, play in a variety of positions across Ireland’s back-four this summer.

Darron Gibson – has failed to establish himself as a first choice player for Ireland, although is now at least a regular at club level for Everton having left Old Trafford last January.

Paul McShane – the former United junior has struggled to make an impression at the highest level of English football, having spent time with Sunderland, Hull City, Barnsley, and Crystal Palace since leaving United without making a first team appearance.

 
 

The squads

Poland

1. W. Szczesny, 2. S. Boesnich, 3. G. Wojtkowiak, 4. D. Perquis, 5. D. Dudka, 6. A. Matuszczyk, 7. E. Polanski, 8. M. Rybus, 9. R. Lewandowski, 10. L. Obraniak, 11. R. Murawski, 12. G. Sandomierski, 13. M. Wasilewski, 14. J. Wawrzyniak, 15. M. Kaminski, 16. J. Blaszczykowski, 17. R. Wolfski, 18. A. Mierzejewski, 19. A. Sobiech, 20. L.Piszczek, 21. K. Grosicki, 22. P. Tyton, 23. P. Brozek

Greece
1. K. Chalkias, 2. I. Maniatis, 3. G. Tzavelas, 4. S. Malezas, 5. K. Papadopoulos, 6. G. Makos, 7. G. Samaras, 8. A. Papadopoulos, 9. N. Lyberopoulos, 10. G. Karagounis, 11. K. Mitroglu, 12. A. Tzorvas, 13. M. Sifakis, 14. D. Salpigidis, 15. V. Torosidis, 16. G. Fotakis, 17. T. Gekas, 18. S. Ninis, 19. S. Papastathopoulos, 20. J. Holebas, 21. K. Katsouranis, 22. K. Fortounis, 23. G. Fetfatzidis

Russia
1. I. Akinfeev, 2. A. Anyukov, 3. R. Sharanov, 4. S. Ignashevich, 5. Y. Zhirkov, 6. R. Shirokov, 7. I. Denisov, 8. K. Zyryanov, 9. M. Izmailov, 10. A. Arshavin, 11. A. Kerzhakov, 12. A. Berezutski, 13. A. Shunin, 14. R. Pavyluchenko, 15. D. Kombarov, 16. V. Malafeev, 17. A. Dzagoev, 18. A. Kokorin, 19. V. Granat, 20. P. Pogrebnyak, 21. K. Nababkin, 22. D. Glushakov, 23. I. Semshov

Czech Republic
1. P. Cech, 2. T. Gebre Selassie, 3. M. Kadlec, 4. M. Suchy, 5. R. Hubnik, 6. T. Sivok, 7. T. Necid, 8. D. Limbersky, 9. J. Rezek, 10. T. Rosicky, 11. M. Petrzela, 12. F. Rajtoral, 13. J. Plasil, 14. V. Pilar, 15. M. Baros, 16. J. Lastuvka, 17. T. Hubschman, 18. D. Kolaf, 19. P. Jiracek, 20. T. Pekhart, 21. D. Lafata, 22. V. Darida, 23. J. Drobny

Holland
1. M. Stekelenburg, 2. G. Van Der Wiel, 3. J. Heitinga, 4. J. Mathijsen, 5. W. Bouma, 6. M. Van Bommel, 7. D. Kuyt, 8. N. De Jong, 9. K.J. Huntelaar, 10. W. Sneijder, 11. A. Robben, 12. M. Vorm, 13. R. Vlaar, 14. S. Schaars, 15. J. Willems, 16. R. Van Persie, 17. K. Strootman, 18. L. De Jong, 19. L. Narsingh, 20. I. Afellay, 21. K. Boulahrouz, 22. T. Krul, 23. R. Van Der Vaart

Denmark
1. K. Schmeichel, 2. C. Poulsen, 3. S. Kjaer, 4. D. Agger, 5. S. Poulsen, 6. L. Jacobsen, 7. W. Kvist, 8. C. Eriksen, 9. M. Krohn-Dehli, 10. D. Rommedahl, 11. N. Bendtner, 12. A. Bjelland, 13. J. Okore, 14. L. Schone, 15. M. Silberbauer, 16. S. Andersen, 17. N. Pedersen, 18. D. Wass, 19. J. Poulsen, 20. T. Kahlenberg, 21. N. Zimling, 22. A. Lindegaard, 23. T. Mikkelson

Germany
1. M. Neuer, 2. I. Gundogan, 3. M. Schmelzer, 4. B. Howedes, 5. M. Hummels, 6. S. Khedira, 7. B. Schweinsteiger, 8. M. Ozil, 9. A. Schurrle, 10. L. Podolski, 11. M. Klose, 12. T. Wiese, 13. T. Mueller, 14. H. Badstuber, 15. L. Bender, 16. P. Lahm, 17. P. Mertersacker, 18. T. Kroos, 19. M. Goetze, 20. J. Boateng, 21. M. Reus, 22. R.R. Zieler, 23. M. Gomez

Portugal
1. Eduardo, 2. B. Alves, 3. Pepe, 4. M. Veloso, 5. F. Coentrao, 6. Custodio, 7. C. Ronaldo, 8. J. Moutinho, 9. H. Almeida, 10. R. Quaresma, 11. N. Oliveira, 12. R. Patricio, 13. R. Costa, 14. Rolando, 15. R. Micael, 16. R. Meireles, 17. Nani, 18. S. Varela, 19. M. Lopes, 20. H. Viana, 21. J. Pereira, 22. Beto, 23. H. Postiga

Spain
1. I. Casillas, 2. R. Albiol, 3. G. Pique, 4. J. Martinez, 5. Juanfran, 6. A. Iniesta, 7. Pedro, 8. Xavi, 9. F. Torres, 10. C. Fabregas, 11. A. Negredo, 12. V. Valdes, 13. J. Mata, 14. X. Alonso, 15. S. Ramos, 16. S. Busquets, 17. A. Arbeloa, 18. J. Alba, 19. F. Llorente, 20. S. Cazorla, 21. D. Silva, 22. J. Navas, 23. P. Reina

Italy
1. G. Buffon, 2. C. Maggio, 3. G. Chiellini, 4. A. Ogbonna, 5. T. Motta, 6. F. Balzaretti, 7. I. Abate, 8. C. Marchisio, 9. M. Balotelli, 10. A. Cassano, 11. A. Di Natale, 12. S. Sirigu, 13. E. Giaccherini, 14. M. De Sanctis, 15. A. Barzagli, 16. D. De Rossi, 17. F. Borini, 18. R. Montolivo, 19. L. Bonucci, 20. S. Giovinco, 21. A. Pirlo, 22. A. Diamanti, 23. A. Nocerino

Republic of Ireland
1. S. Given, 2. S. St Ledger, 3. S. Ward, 4. J. O’Shea, 5. R. Dunne, 6. G. Whelan, 7. A. McGeady, 8. K. Andrews, 9. K. Doyle, 10. R. Keane, 11. D. Duff, 12. S. Kelly, 13. S. Hunt, 14. D. Gibson, 15. D. O’Dea, 16. K. Westwood, 17. S. Long, 18. P. Green, 19. J. Walters, 20. S. Cox, 21. P. McShane, 22. J. McLean, 23. D. Forde

Croatia
1. S. Pletikosa, 2. I. Strinic, 3. J. Simunic, 4. J. Buljat, 5. V. Corluka, 6. D. Pranjic, 7. I. Rakitic, 8. O. Vukojevic, 9. N. Jelavic, 10. L. Modric, 11. D. Srna, 12. I. Kelava, 13. G. Schildenfeld, 14. M. Badelj, 15. I. Ilicevic, 16. T. Dujmovic, 17. M. Mandzukic, 18. I. Olic, 19. N. Kranjcar, 20. I. Perisic, 21. D. Vida, 22. Eduardo, 23. D. Subasic

Ukraine
1. M. Koval, 2. Y. Selin, 3. Y. Khacheridi, 4. A. Tymoshchuk, 5. O. Kucher, 6. D. Harmash, 7. A. Shevchenko, 8. O. Aliyev, 9. O. Husyev, 10. A. Voronin, 11. A. Yarmolenko, 12. A. Pyatov, 13. V. Shevchuk, 14. R. Rotan, 15. A. Milevskiy, 16. Y. Seleznyov, 17. T. Mykhalyk, 18. S. Nazarenko, 19. Y. Konoplyanka, 20. Y. Rakitskiy, 21. B. Butko, 22. M. Devych, 23. O. Horyainov

Sweden
1. A. Isaksson, 2. M. Lustig, 3. O. Mellberg, 4. A. Granqvist, 5. M. Olsson, 6. R. Elm, 7. S. Larsson, 8. A. Svensson, 9. K. Kallstrom, 10. Z. Ibrahimovic, 11. J. Elmander, 12. J. Wiland, 13. J. Olsson, 14. T. Hysen, 15. M. Antonsson, 16. P. Wernbloom, 17. B. Safari, 18. S. Holmen, 19. E. Bajrami, 20. O. Toivonen, 21. C. Wilhelmsson, 22. M. Rosenberg, 23. P. Hansson

England
1. J. Hart, 2. G. Johnson, 3. A. Cole, 4. S. Gerrard, 5. G. Cahill, 6. J. Terry, 7. T. Walcott, 8. F. Lampard, 9. A. Carroll, 10. W. Rooney, 11. A. Young, 12. L. Baines, 13. R. Green, 14. P. Jones, 15. J. Lescott, 16. J. Milner, 17. S. Parker, 18. P. Jagielka, 19. S. Downing, 20. A. Oxlade-Chamberlain, 21. J. Defoe, 22. D. Welbeck, 23. J. Butland

France
1. H. Lloris, 2. M. Debuchy, 3. P. Evra, 4. A. Rami, 5. P. Mexes, 6. Y. Cabaye, 7. F. Ribery, 8. M. Valbuena, 9. O. Giroud, 10. K. Benzema, 11. S. Nasri, 12. B. Matuidi, 13. A. Reveillere, 14. J. Menez, 15. F. Malouda, 16. S. Mandanda, 17. Y. M’Vila, 18. A. Diarra, 19. M. Martin, 20. H. Ben Arfa, 21. L. Koscielny, 22. G. Clichy, 23. C. Carrasso

Dalglish and Capello – brothers in denial

February 9, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 36 comments

There was something all too inevitable about Fabio Capello’s departure from the England job this week. Reportedly angered by the Football Association’s unilateral decision to remove John Terry as national team captain, Capello resigned at just after 3pm Wednesday afternoon. Such is the mood of distrust between the parties that the FA made little attempt to change the Italian’s mind. Capello’s is a fit of pique that costs the Italian around £2 million in lost wages, but more importantly generates questions about the former national team manager’s conduct.

Just as Kenny Dalglish has garnered critical media coverage for his staunch support of Luis Suárez over the past three months, in the face of widespread condemnation of the Uruguayan’s conduct, so too will questions be asked of Capello. After all, there are significant parallels between the two men, each of whom has singularly failed to understand the national mood surrounding racism in the country’s favourite sport.

The Italian’s resignation followed an hour-long meeting with FA Chairman David Bernstein at the body’s Wembley headquarters. It was a meeting in which the former AC Milan manager expressed his frustration at Terry’s removal, against the manager’s wishes, as England team captain.

After all, argues Capello, Terry has not been proven guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. Not by an independent panel, as was Suárez when he abused Manchester United captain Patrice Evra, and certainly not by the courts. That verdict may come in July after the magistrates court in charge postponed Terry’s originally schedule hearing.

Capello’s is a simple mantra: Terry is innocent until proven guilty. Simplistic, might be a more accurate description. Capello’s is a message that is widely understood, and may have garnered more widespread support among the football community had the Terry affair not threatened to engulf England’s Euro 2012 campaign. The unrelenting controversy and media scrutiny that a tournament involving England brings would only be heightened by Terry’s name on the leadership ticket.

The risk to the FA, of course, was that every managerial decision, every question to the team’s captain, and every result during the tournament would be placed in the context of Terry’s potential guilt. It was a risk too far for a conservative organisation. No spin will airbrush history if Terry is found guilty of racially abusing Rio Ferdinand’s younger brother.

In the context, and for once with right on its side, the governing body reacted quickly, and without apology, to sack Terry. Indeed, the FA’s decision was taken without consultation, undermining Capello’s authority in the process, and prompting the Italian manager to burn his bridges during an interview with Italian TV station RAI on Tuesday.

What more could the FA have done, except critics add, remove Terry from the squad altogether. Inept though the governing body is normally guaranteed to be, the FA had almost no choice but to demote the Chelsea defender. Many argue that the FA should never have allowed this halfway house to exist at all.

The new manager, whether it is the much discussed Harry Redknapp or another man, may well find it impossible to take the Chelsea man to Poland and Ukraine at all. Yet, Capello has received widespread support from fellow managers, including United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The collective managers’ union can never countenance team decisions being taken by a higher authority, without admitting to an overwhelming sense of impotence.

“There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion,” said Ferguson shortly prior to Capello’s departure.

“It’s a difficult situation for both sides. When you are the manager of a team and have a captain that is an important part of that team then you don’t want to lose him, so I can understand there’s a lot of discussion and controversy about it. There will have to be a coming together of the FA hierarchy and Fabio Capello because he’s the team manager, he has the importance of that position. Without question the most important person at a football club is the manager.”

In that prediction Ferguson was right, and Sir Alex’ support for fellow managers is long-standing. But it is also a poor barometer of the bind that the FA found itself. While the manager may be the “most important” man at any club, Capello’s position was certainly no more valuable than the bigger picture. This is, after all, an association that has promised a tough stance on racism. Terry, as the body’s leader on the pitch, quickly became anathema once the courts had put back its decision until after Euro 2012.

Capello’s is another case in a sordid campaign for managers when it comes to dealing with issues of race.

The Suárez and Terry incidents in the autumn have brought far too myopic a response from those involved. Dalglish’s agenda was different to Capello’s, of course, but each came from a position not of responsibility, but self interest.

The Liverpool manager strongly voiced Suárez’ innocence long after an independent regulatory commission ruled, in microscopic detail, on the affair. Capello has fallen on his sword for a man who may yet been proven guilty of a deeply inhumane act.

Yet, both Dalglish and the now former England manager have misjudged the country’s mood; misunderstood that while short-termism can be a catalyst for deflecting attention, ‘doing the right thing’ is the only permissible route when it comes to question of race. Dalglish’s stance set race relations back a generation at Liverpool. Capello has fallen on his sword because of his poor command of the substantial implications of the Terry case.

It is as if denial of the issue has taken over; an old school misunderstanding of the societal changes that have taken place while Capello and Dalglish were cossetted away in the surreal world of professional football.

The bandwagon will move on of course, but the England job, dubbed a “poison chalice” by Ferguson, will remain an impossibly difficult challenge. It is one that Ferguson must be grateful the FA will not try, for a third time, to foist upon him.

Dear Liverpudlian friends,

After reading this article you may be tempted to post a long conspiratorial diatribe, blaming the FA for “making an example of Luis Suárez.” You may wish to protest the striker’s innocence or, indeed, you may think about couching your post in quasi-legal language, of which you have no genuine expertise. You’re almost certainly desperate to blame Patrice Evra for it all. STOP! This has been heard before, and the small number of you that did not include racist or foul language were afforded space on this Manchester United blog. There is, however, a proper home for you. It’s called RAWK and you’ll be more than welcome there.

Yours, the editor.