THE dust has settled on a dramatic day for the Home Nations with England’s last-gasp win over Wales and a historic triumph for Northern Ireland.
Day 8 at the Euros is all about holders, dark horses and a legend of European football.
Player of the Day – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC will today attempt to become the first person to score in four Euros as Sweden take on Italy in Toulouse. It’s 12 years since Ibrahimovic first appeared on this stage and he marked it with two goals in 2004, including an equaliser against today’s opponents which effectively eliminated the Italians and put his own country through.
A few weeks later, he went to Italy in a move which shaped his career. Ibrahimovic played for Juventus, Inter and AC Milan – the three biggest clubs – and won Serie A with all of them, establishing his reputation as one of the finest players in Europe. Now he could be facing the Italians for the final time in an international and the whole of Sweden will look to him for inspiration to keep alive their chance of reaching the knockout stages for the first time since 2004.
Are Spain’s striker problems symptomatic of the tournament?
MONDAY’s victory over the Czech Republic followed the typical Spanish pattern. Absolute domination of the ball, but it took until the 87th minute to find the all-important breakthrough. There was the usual brilliance of Spain’s creative players in midfield but a lack of a real killer instinct and Vicente Del Bosque’s options up front for tonight’s game against Turkey in Nice are limited. Alvaro Morata played against the Czechs but he is an infrequent scorer, while the only other real striker is 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz, who has come to France on the back of a great season with Athletic Bilbao. How badly missed are Fernando Torres and David Villa now.
But Spain are not alone – Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Wales, Czech Republic to name but a few are other countries where the choices up front are limited. The out-and-out goalscorer is becoming an endangered species and it needed England yesterday with Roy Hodgson throwing on three in the second-half comeback against Wales to show there is still a big place for a poacher.
Are Croatia dark horses for the Euros?
APART from Italy, Croatia probably produced the most complete display of any team in their opening game. The 1-0 win over Turkey was flattering to the Turks as the Balkan side carved out a host of chances throughout the 90 minutes and should have won more convincingly. They return to action against the Czech Republic in St Etienne looking to make a similar impression before they face Spain in their final group game on Tuesday.
Certainly the Spanish view when the draw was made was that the Croatians were a team to avoid given the ability in their ranks. That’s especially true when you see a Real Madrid-Barcelona axis in central midfield of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, as good as any on display in France. Throw in some exciting youngsters and old campaigners like captain Darijo Srna and Vedran Corluka and it’s easy to see why there is quiet belief about their prospects. And don’t forget the last time a tournament was played in France, Croatia finished third at the 1998 World Cup.
French of the Day: Carton Jaune/Carton Rouge (Yellow card/red card)
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