ZAGREB, CROATIA - FEBRUARY 29: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden prior to the International Friendly between Croatia and Sweden on February 29, 2012 in Zagreb, Croatia. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Ukraine got into Euro 2012 because they're co-hosts. They're not a great team. Sweden has Zlatan. This might get ugly. Follow @SBNationSoccer
Hosts are generally expected to do well in major tournaments because of the home advantage that they have over every other team. Between the poor results that Austria and Switzerland posted in Euro 2008 and Poland's sub-par second half performance against Greece on Friday, it's probably time to stop pretending that this is a big deal if the hosts are not very good. Ukraine are co-hosts of Euro 2012, and they are not very good.
Ukraine is a large country with a lot of decent talent and a decent domestic league, but they're very much in a transition period with their senior national team, and it seems safe to assume that they would not have qualified for this tournament if they weren't hosting. They looked poor in two warm-up friendlies against Austria and Turkey, teams that failed to qualify for the tournament.
They start the tournament against Sweden, who despite being a smaller country and a smaller name, might be a bit better than the current versions of England and France. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the most in-form superstar in the group and all eyes will be in him. Considering the solid midfield protecting him and the respectable attacking talent around him, he'll be expected to produce.
Ukraine have a whole bunch of problems, most of which are centered around their players being either old or just generally average at football, but their biggest problem is probably at right back. In consecutive friendlies, two different right backs were absolutely torn to pieces by David Alaba and Caner Erkin, who are both actually attacking fullbacks that were pushed up to the left wing for Austria and Turkey, respectively. This is, needless to say, really awful news for Ukraine. Those two right backs, Oleh Husiev and Bohdan Butko, could find themselves both benched in favor of Shakhtar Donetsk's athletic utility man Oleksandr Kucher.
Here's the good news: Sweden aren't going to play with a true left-footed left winger, so Kucher or whoever else plays right back might be spared some embarrassment. The likely starter over there is multi-dimensional forward Ola Toivonen, who also can play as an attacking midfielder or center forward. He'll do a lot of interchanging with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Johan Elmander while Sweden's midfielders get forward occasionally and Sebastian Larsson cuts in from the right. Their front six should be extremely fluid and could end up playing through the center a lot.
This means that Anatoily Tymoshchuk is going to be a key man for the hosts. Andriy Voronin is going to come back from his second striker position to help win the ball back on a regular basis, but Serhiy Nazarenko isn't going to be terribly useful defensively if he starts. Oleh Blokhin might be concerned enough about the threat that Ibrahimovic and the rest of Sweden's centrally-minded team provides that he gives a start to young Denys Harmash, an athletic midfielder who recently established himself as a regular at Dinamo Kiev.
If it sounds like this is harsh on Ukraine, it really isn't. In fact, this is a generous preview in that it presents some options for Ukraine to avoid getting embarrassed. If Ibrahimovic plays his best game, there really isn't anyone on Ukraine's team that can do anything to slow him down.
There was once a time where Ukraine might be able to score enough goals to counter a team like Sweden, but those days have probably passed. Andriy Shevchenko did not play or score regularly for Dinamo Kiev this season, nor did Artem Milevskiy. If there is a saving grace for this team, it's that left winger Andriy Yarmolenko is in great form and could cause problems for Sweden right back Mikael Lustig. When in doubt -- which they will be constantly -- Ukraine should probably just kick the ball in his general direction.
Projected Ukraine Lineup (4-1-3-2): Andriy Pyatov; Yevhen Selin, Taras Mykhalyk, Yevhen Khacheridi, Oleksandr Kucher; Anatoliy Tymoshchuk; Andriy Yarmolenko, Serhiy Nazarenko, Oleh Husyev; Andriy Voronin, Artem Milevskiy
Projected Sweden Lineup (4-2-3-1): Andreas Isaksson; Martin Olsson, Andreas Granqvist, Olof Mellberg, Mikael Lustig; Kim Kallstrom, Rasmus Elm; Ola Toivonen, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Larsson; Johan Elmander
Monty the Psychic Metal Disc says: For some f--king half-witted reason my programmer can't figure out who will win this game on his own. Ukraine is s--t. What Shevchenko can do with a ball, Ibrahimovic can do with an orange. You cannot comprehend his genius. He is a god to the people of Sweden. 3-0 Sweden.
Game Date/Time: Monday, 2:45 p.m. ET, 9:45 p.m. local
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN (Canada)