Ukraine opened Euro 2012 by delighting the home fans with a 2-1 comeback victory. Both goals were scored by Andriy Shevchenko, who can barely walk and who has not been a good striker since 2006. This result doesn't feel like one that can be easily repeated.
Of course, they might pull it off anyway. It's actually reasonable to guess that Shevchenko has received a massive boost of energy due to intangible factors. Anyone who claims he's fighting his heart out for his country and that he's going to continue to play above and beyond what anyone thought he was capable of is really just guessing, but based on his performance against Sweden and his strike rate for Ukraine, it's not exactly a stupid guess.
They're going to need a lot more than motivation, fight, spirit, grit, heart, etc. on Friday, however. They're coming up against a France team that, while not spectacular, is certainly more accomplished than Sweden. They're coming off a frustrating draw against an England team that everyone knew would play defensively, but Roy Hodgson really exceeded expectations in that regard. It was a proper bus parking, and France looked like they didn't see it coming.
Ukraine are probably going to be less defensive than England, which, when you think about the kind of talent that should be coming out of each nation, kind of makes you want to scream. Additionally, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk seems to have joined Shevchenko in finding new life. He did an excellent job of marshaling the Ukraine midfield by himself against Sweden while Serhiy Nazarenko was free to drift around and do whatever he felt like.
Tymoshchuk won't have a specific player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic to keep tabs on, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on exactly how France play. Both Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri like to cut in a lot while Florent Malouda could do a fair bit of getting forward and Yohan Cabaye will probably try more through balls than he did against England. Tymoshchuk is going to have a lot of work to do, and his effectiveness will come down to his decision making. France doesn't have a specific central attacking threat, but they do give him a lot more to think about.
France are favorites in this match, and for good reason, but a repeat of the performance that they gave against England is going to bring about a repeat result. Without a midfield that's willing to take some chances and able to set up scoring opportunities for Karim Benzema, France is going to struggle. The midfield trio of Malouda, Cabaye and Alou Diarra just simply didn't get it done against England. They played not to lose and they succeeded in that endeavor while simultaneously throwing away two points in a match were they were the better team.
Yann M'Vila might return from his ankle injury and replace Diarra on Friday and he'd help a lot, but he's not exactly a creative maestro. He's a more versatile player than Diarra, but Cabaye and Malouda are the guys who are actually going to have to create something. That job can't be left completely up to Ribery and Nasri. Someone needs to do something through the middle.
Projected Ukraine Lineup (4-1-3-2): Andriy Pyatov; Yevhen Selin, Yevhen Khacheridi, Taras Mykhalyk, Oleh Husyev; Anatoliy Tymoshchuk; Yevhen Konoplyanka, Serhiy Nazarenko, Andriy Yarmolenko; Andriy Voronin, Andriy Shevchenko
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: Please don't take my advice, I'm not actually psychic. 1-0 France.
Game Date/Time: Friday, June 15th, 12 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. local
Venue: Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), ITV 1 (U.K.), TSN (Canada)
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