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Euro 2012 Preview: Group D

Sebastian Larsson will be looking to inflict some misery on England this summer.
Sebastian Larsson will be looking to inflict some misery on England this summer.

Well, with the tournament starting in literally a few hours, we come onto the last group, and if you're still on board with international football, despite Sunderland being overlooked for the last god knows how many years when it comes to call ups, then this is the big one. Although the actual England squad only contains players that used to be ours, rather than ones that are plying their trade at the Stadium of Light, we have interest elsewhere, and for me, as a resident of France, there's plenty to talk about.

So let's get right into it...

Ukraine - 50/1

So, what do the co-hosts have in the locker? The build up to the tournament (they have lost their last two friendlies) and pundits certainly aren't giving them much of a chance, and it seems to be fairly justified. Seemingly a team ‘in transition', which as we all know just means a bit crap at the moment (see Liverpool since 1995), this tournament may just come a little too early for the transformation to be complete, although they boast a few familiar names and, on home soil, you never know what could happen.

Anatoliv Tymoschuk might be 33 years old, but you don't become a regular at Bayern Munich, a team that came second in the Bundesliga and reached the Champions League final or win 116 caps for your country without having a bit of talent to call on. Other familiar names include the Ukrainian version of Sergey Rebrov, Andriy Voronin (always seemed good, came to England and was crap), and the extreme case of that situation, in the legend that is Andriy Shevchenko. Would anyone really bet against the former Chelsea man leaving John Terry on his posterior and slotting the winner against England at this stage? No, well, thought not.

Martin O'Neill's apparent transfer policy means that it's unlikely that we'll be seeing any of the Ukraine players at the SOL next season, but who knows, the Euros have a habit of throwing up a player that everyone suddenly wants. Admittedly, it seems that Sir Martin has too many grey cells to splash the cash on the strength of three games at a tournament (I'm thinking Karel Poborsky and Phil Babb here), but you never know.

And for a bit of viewing pleasure, he's Shevchenko doing what he does best. Finding the onion sack.

England - 14/1

First up, congratulations to the good people of for making England their fifth favourites. A good sense of humour is important in any line of work, and they seem to have it down to a tee.

In all seriousness, the lack of expectation surrounding England, for the first time in a long time, may just be to their advantage. Roy Hodgson is an experienced manager at club, European and international level, and although the squad has suffered a number of high-profile withdrawls, and is subject to all the Rio Ferdinand situation (that I won't be going anywhere near), we may just not be as bad as many are saying.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this, for us Sunderland fans, watching England is going to be a case of what used to be, rather than what is. Danny Welbeck was superb in his year as a Black Cat, and I am yet to meet a fan that doesn't wish him all the best in everything that he does, whether that be for Manchester United or England. With Wayne Rooney suspended for the first two group games, and Andy Carroll being, urm, Andy Carroll, ‘Welbz' will hopefully get a chance to show what he can do. He did his chances no harm in the friendly against Belgium, scoring an excellent goal, and it is just Hodgson's liking of a big man up top, and France's defence that looks susceptible from crosses, that may keep him out of the opening encounter.

Someone that probably won't start the game is Jordan Henderson. Admittedly a little hit and miss during his time in the North East, his desire and passion could never be questioned, and he struggled both with the weight of his price tag and Kenny Dalglish's refusal to play him in a settled position in his first season at Anfield. I'm sure Jordan would be the first to admit that it hasn't gone as he would have hoped, but the reaction to his call up to the squad, both from Twitter users and journalists was nothing short of disgraceful. The lad is the future of England's midfield, and tournament experience will do him the world of good. To anyone who isn't willing to give him a chance, or has already earmarked him as a potential scapegoat for England's failings, sod off. Yep, go do one.

England's best chance of success will probably be similar to O'Neill's Sunderland. Remembering that possession doesn't win you games, but keeping it tight without the ball and breaking quickly will be essential if we are to get out of the group, and the recent warm up game against Sweden proved that we have the quality in the side to do it well.

Looking at the England squad, the only player in there that I could see possibly being at the SOL next season is James Milner. Despite his call up, it's fair to say that the midfield man's career is stuttering at Manchester City, and if the worst was to happen and City came calling for Stephane Sessegnon in the summer, Milner has excelled under O'Neill before, and he could be a useful bargaining tool should be not be able to stave off the interest from Manchester.

And here's a little treat to get you all in the mood...

Sweden - 66/1

It seems the odds have been a little unkind to Sweden. Personally, they were my first love in international football. The team that included Thomas Ravelli, Thomas Brolin, Kennet Anderson and Martin Dahlin made me fall in love with the game on a global scale, even if Brolin was to become a fat vacuum cleaner salesman.

The Swedes actually come into the tournament on fine form, having won all four of their games in 2012. They also have something of a voodoo curse over England, although we can hope that it's been lifted thanks to the 1-0 win in a friendly at the end of last year.

Of course, none other than our beautiful left midfielder Seb Larsson will be one of the main attractions in the Sweden team, and he has been among the goals in the build up to the tournament. We all know how devastating he can be from set pieces, but that probably won't stop England's darling ‘Scotty' Parker from conceding free kicks in dangerous positions. His delivery from corners may also prove to be a devastating weapon, with targets such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and ex-Villa legend Olaf Mellberg in the mixer.

Another familiar face to Sunderland fans will be that of Toby Hysen. The frontman may not have had as long as he wanted on Wearside, and felt the force of Roy Keane's wrath once or twice, but it's probably fair to say that he had a lot of fans here during his time at Sunderland, and although he may not get much playing time at the tournament, he too has been among the goals in qualifying.

Rumours are rife that Martin Olsson might be on our radar ahead of the new campaign, although how much of that is just because he's a left back and was relegated I don't know. It might just be a case of people putting two and two together. He's solid enough though, and I for one wouldn't be disappointed if he signed on the bottom line.

France - 10/1

Which brings up on to France. I actually wish that I lived in a town that liked football (it's rugby or nothing here), but anyway, I'll still enjoy myself and probably get barred from one or two of the town's finest establishments.

Many people's overriding memory of the French in recent years will be their failure in 2008, when they were booted out of the tournament in the group stages with only one point, and one goal, to their names. Fast forward two years and the squad was in disarray, fighting among itself with a number of players being sent home.

However, Lauren Blanc has put down his mark on this team, and turned them into a machine. Unbeaten in close to 20 games (it may actually be 20), France have really found form of late, and should be a shoe-in to win the group. Whether or not this tournament is perhaps two years early for the squad remains to be seen, but expect them to be a force.

With attacking players such as Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Ligue 1's top scorer Olivier Giroud to call on, goals shouldn't be a problem, as they were four years ago. However, the team doesn't look overly strong at the back, and it will take good performances from the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Alou Diarra and Yann M'Vila to look after the back four.

Looking down the France squad, I can't see any players that Sunderland could realistically look at signing, apart from perhaps Mathieu Debuchy. The right back is certainly in demand though, with Newcastle obviously taking a look at him, although Alex Ferguson is apparently also a fan. Maybe not then.

We really shouldn't underestimate France, and they are my tips to win the group. After that, I'm not sure. It's something of a toss-up between us and Sweden. If we come across Zlatan on a day where he really fancies it, we may be in serious trouble. It's just a case of waiting to see.

Enjoy the tournament everyone, and if we win on Monday night, I hope you enjoy that almost as much as I will.

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