WILL FRANCE BEAT SWEDEN IN GROUP C
Against Ukraine, France were afforded the space they were denied against England, and took advantage in devastating fashion: Benzema was largely faultless and Jeremy Menez made the most of his start. Given that England found Sweden to be willing victims, France can almost certainly expect to take three points and ensure progress to the quarter-finals.
There was a better showing in defence last time out. Gael Clichy would ordinarily consider the left-back position his sole right, but Laurent Blanc still refuses to confirm his place. The central defence of Adil Rami and Phillipe Mexes was solid, if not awe inspiring. Against England, you would have believed they’d not even met before, let alone played together.
Alou Diarra has impressed in the holding role, calling to mind his Bordeaux days under Blanc, rather than his rather unimpressive season at Marseille. He may be replaced by Yann M’Vila, who came on as a sub against Ukraine, but given Yohan Cabaye’s slight injury and Blanc’s stated aim of tailoring a team to the opposition, the centre of the park is difficult to pin down.
Up front, Benzema is yet to score, and Sweden struggled against Andy Carroll (no, really), who has taken to impersonating a footballer again rather than a stunned cow, but change is unlikely. Arsenal target Olivier Giroud would offer an aerial threat, but is inferior to Benzema in all other regards.
It might make sense to start with both strikers against this defence, but Laurent Blanc favours a single striker. Given England’s success against Sweden highlighted their difficulties with crosses, Menez and Franck Ribery should pose a significant threat. Sweden crumbled against a mentally iffy England side and can't qualify. France should have no trouble. Should.
Score prediction: France 2-0 Sweden
Karim Benzema to score and France to win 2.90; France to win both halves 4.00; France 2-0 at 8.75.
It’s always in defeat that managers bust out the best metaphors. “The operation went well, but the patient died,” said Sweden’s coach Erik Hamrén, possibly while wielding a stethoscope and taking off his scrubs.
For Sweden this is a time for grisly analogies, but also for sober reflection. They are out of Euro 2012 but they did offer a glimpse of their potential against England. This was the team that’s come so far in the last two years, the team that scored 31 goals in qualifying, the team that beat Holland.
It would be churlish to overanalyse such a breathless game, but Sweden looked markedly more fluid with Anders Svensson in the midfield, with the rugged Jonas Olsson at the back and Johan Elmander leading the line up top.
If the final game against France is anything like as much fun, then the Blågult will have made their mark on the tournament. Sweden’s performance still affects the other teams in Group D, so it would be unfair to put out a weakened side. But Hamrén, with one eye on the 2014 World Cup, may be tempted to mix things up.
The promising striker John Guidetti missed the tournament with a virus, but he isn’t Sweden’s only hope. Let’s see Michael Almebäck, the pacy defender from Club Brugge. Let’s see Pontus Wernbloom, who should be Svensson’s replacement in central midfield. Let’s give Rasmus Elm the chance to show why he is so highly rated in midfield or find out whether Emir Bajrami can overcome his inconsistent club form. Most of all, let’s see if Sweden can give the Euros another performance to remember.
The next patient is ready for you, Dr Hamrén.
Score prediction: France 2-2 Sweden
Over 3.5 goals at 2.85; both teams to score at 1.72; 2-2 at 15.00.