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Champions League Group Stage Ultimate XI

Group Stage Ultimate XI

The Champions League group stages are done and dusted with Chelsea becoming the first holders in the history to be knocked out in the group stages, Manchester City completely out of Europe, Real Madrid finishing second and Lionel Messi in fine form.

Here, IntoTheTopCorner picks its Group Stage Ultimate XI, containing the very best performers over the six matchdays in a 4-5-1 formation. There’s an alternative to each selection, so have a look at the team below…

GK – FRASER FORSTER (CELTIC)

Forster

Celtic are through to the knockout stages for the first time since the 2007/08 season and they had some individual performances to thank for. The former Newcastle United shot-stopper is one of them, as he had two brilliant games against Barcelona that actually secured their qualification. A last-gasp defeat at the Camp Nou and a historical win at Celtic Park did their confidence a world of good, and their final matchday win over Spartak Moscow was more than deserved.

Alternative – Joe Hart (Manchester City)

RB – PHILIPP LAHM (BAYERN MUNICH)

Lahm

Bayern’s skipper and Mr. Consistent, Philipp Lahm, has proved dependable yet again as the Bundesliga leaders secured the top spot in Group F ahead of Valencia. Though, the German international captain did his best work on the left flank he comes in our side as a right-back. He managed three assists and won one penalty in the five matches he played and looked very solid at the back.

Alternative – Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)

CB – THIAGO SILVA (PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN)

Thiago Silva

The Brazilian is known as one of the best defenders in the world of football at the moment and he didn’t let anyone down. The former AC Milan centre-back was very consistent throughout the group stages as he helped the French side to first place in Group A in their long-awaited return to Europe’s elite. He scored two goals including the opener in PSG’s important win over Porto on Matchday six.

Alternative – Martin Demichelis (Malaga)

CB – MATS HUMMELS (BORUSSIA DORTMUND)

Hummels

Dortmund – surprisingly – topped the Group of Death and they had their solid defence to thank for it. Hummels, the integral part of the reigning Bundesliga champions’ back four, was at his very best as Die Schwarzgelben remained unbeaten in all of their six group games and also managed to keep three clean sheets in the process.  All the defence played their part, but the German international was perhaps the standout performer in Jurgen Klopp’s back four.

Alternative – Nicolas Otamendi (Porto)

LB – GIORGIO CHIELLINI (JUVENTUS)

Chiellini

Juventus secured their passage through to the knockout stages as Group E winners thanks to an unbeaten run of six games. Their last three were impressive wins and also clean sheets, while the Old Lady came out victorious in Donetsk – a feat achieved by very few teams in the past 12 months or so. The Italian international was perhaps the most impressive player in Antonio Conte’s back three.

Alternative – Christian Fuchs (Schalke)

CDM – ARTURO VIDAL (JUVENTUS)

Vidal

The Chilean international has to be one of the players of the group stages. The former Leverkusen man is a typical box-to-box midfielder combining defensive steel with goal-scoring prowess at the highest level. His partnership with Claudio Marschisio is the engine of Conte’s team. In the group stages, he averaged 4.8 tackles per game and scored three goals with one assist—an absolutely remarkable feat for a defensive midfield.

Alternative – Victor Wanyama (Celtic)

CM – WILLIAN (SHAKHTAR DONETSK)

Willian

The Brazilian alongside the Chilean gives our side some South American feel in the midfield. Willian, who has attracted a lot of interest from the Premier League clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham in the past, was one of the top performers for Shakhtar scoring four goals and creating two as they made it through to the last-16 and dumped the holders out of the competition in the process.

Alternative – Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)

CM – ISCO (MALAGA)

Isco

The 20-year-old Spaniard scored twice and assisted two in six games to announce himself on the European stage and walk straight into our line-up. While he has failed to to translate this form into his La Liga games, Isco has been in super form in the Champions League. It’s his form in the in Europe’s elite competition that has clubs scrambling to meet his €18.5 million buyout clause before Malaga extend his contract, and it’s clear this kid has something slightly special.

Alternative – Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)

RW – CRISTIANO RONALDO (REAL MADRID)

Ronaldo

Love him or hate him, but the Portuguese is surely one of the best players in the world and he proved it with his performances for the Spanish champions in the group stages. The former Manchester United star managed to scored six goals in the group of death and will be hoping to score many more in the later stages as he hopes to guide the Los Blancos to their first ever Champions League title in over a decade.

Alternative – Juan Mata (Chelsea)

LW – LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA)

Messi

A Champions League team without the best player in the world? Not possible at all. The Barca striker is at his very peak and was again at his very best in the group stages scoring five goals and creating two as he helped the Catalans top their group. The Argentine has had the best year having scored 90 goals and will be hoping more of the same in 2013 as he looks to guide his team to yet another European success.

Alternative – Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray)

ST – ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (PARIS SAINT-GERMIAN)

Ibrahimovic

Out strike force is a nightmare to any team and Ibrahimovic leads it. The Swede has played for the many elite club during his career but his contributions for the French capital side in this season’s campaign can’t be ignored. He has managed to score just two goals in the six games but it’s the five assists that are the most impressive. Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez must really enjoy playing alongside the Swede as he continues to impress.

Alternative – Jackson Martinez (Porto)

Group Stage Ultimate XI

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Portugal v Spain Preview

Defending champions Spain battle with their Iberian neighbours Portugal for a spot in the UEFA EURO 2012 final when they meet in the semi-finals at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk tonight.

Both teams enter the last-four clash on the back of three consecutive wins at the tournament, with Sunday’s final clearly in sight. Vicente del Bosque’s Spain produced an effective quarter-final victory against France, while their neighbours downed Czech Republic to advance.

Paulo Bento believes patience is key if his Portugal side are going to find a way past the holders and world champions in Donetsk. “Of course there are going to be moments in the game when we can link up and go forward,” he said in Tuesday’s pre-game press conference. We want possession of the ball but we are playing against a team that has played better than all the other teams. It’s going to be about patience. We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents in the right areas of the pitch. Our aim is not to defend all the time. You can’t do that against the world and European champions. We are aware that it’s going to be difficult but they also know that we can cause them problems. It was very easy to get motivated because we’re in the semi-finals. There can’t be a more beautiful opportunity than the one we have tomorrow.”

“We’ll intend to throw him (Cristiano Ronaldo) off his game, the best example of that is the second round win at the World Cup, where we managed the better result,” said Vicente Del Bosque of a 1-0 win over Portugal in Johannesburg. “The idea will be the same.” Spain has won its last six knockout round games at major tournaments by a combined score of 7-0. Although the team is not providing eye-catching scorelines, it has shown patience and maturity to break down opponents who nearly always ‘park the bus’, or take a completely defensive approach. “I would prefer if they play back in their own half, it’s a satisfaction for us to keep possession,” Del Bosque said of the Portuguese. “They have enough players that can provide alternatives to their attack, but I would like it if they played in a defensive way because we have solutions to combat that.”

TEAM NEWS

Portugal

Real Zaragoza frontman Postiga has been ruled out with a thigh injury, meaning coach Bento will be unable to field the same starting line-up which he has used in the last six competitive matches. Besiktas forward Hugo Almeida is expected to get the nod in Donetsk, with 20-year-old Nelson Oliveira, who has come on as a substitute three times in the tournament, likely to be on the bench again. Almeida will be flanked in the Portuguese attack by Cristiano Ronaldo, whose glittering displays against the Netherlands and the Czechs played a decisive part in sending Portugal into the last four.

Spain

Del Bosque reported no new injury problems following the quarter-final victory against Les Bleus. However, he must decide whether to start the game again without a recognised striker and allow Cesc Fabregas to fill the role. If Del Bosque decides against the quarter-final line-up, Fernando Torres could lead the line, while Pedro could also get a start in the Spain midfield.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 34
Portugal Wins – 6
Draws – 12
Spain Wins – 16

FORM GUIDE

Portugal – WWWLL
21-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal
17-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
13-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal
09-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-0 Portugal
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – Portugal 1-3 Turkey

Spain – WWWDW
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Pepe (Portugal)
The Real Madrid defender has been as solid as a rock in the heart of the Portuguese defence. The hard tacking defender has had an excellent tournament so far, and has been one of the reason why Portugal are in the semi-finals. He was solid against the Czechs on Thursday. Another performance like that against the Spaniards today and Portugal could be through to the finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
He would undoubtedly be the key man for his side, as he is the only player who looks capable of breaching the solid Spanish defence and getting past his Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas. He has been in tremendous form in the last two matches, scoring three goals and hitting the post four times and is sure to be the biggest test yet for his opposing Captain Casillas.

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Spanish captain hasn’t been troubled a lot so far in this tournament and this will be arguably his toughest test in Poland/Ukraine.  He has been in good form throughout the year for both Real Madrid and Spain and today he will face his club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. If Casillas is able to keep Ronaldo quite and not let him score any goals today then La Roja have a huge chance of progressing to final.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona star has undoubtedly been one of the best players in attack for Spain and has hardly let anyone feel David Villa’s absence. Although kept quiet for most of the last game, he did deliver the beautifully weighted pass that let in Jordi Alba to cross for the first goal. He would be raring to go and make an impact against arch-rivals Portugal today and help his team progress to the final.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Perreira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao; Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho; Nani, Hugo Almeida, Cristiano Ronaldo (C).

The Portuguese would match Spain’s 4-3-3 formation. However, with Helder Postiga set to miss the clash due to the injury sustained in the quarter-finals, Hugo Almeida is expected to start as the centre man in the front three. He would be the target man and long balls would be hit straight at him, which he would be expected to hold up and then bring the dangerous wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani into play. The rest of the team would be the same which has taken field in all four matches.

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The defending champions are expected to line-up in the same 4-3-3 formation that started against the French and completely dominated the game. Fabregas was not too impressive, but would still be expected to start ahead of Fernando Torres as he fits better in the team whose emphasis is on passing football and keeping possession. Plus he has better understanding with the other Barcelona players in the squad. Del Bosque would keep the same team players that have delivered the results.

MATCH ODDS

Portugal 10/3 Draw 23/10 Spain 10/11

PREDICTION

The rivalry will be there for everyone to see and it is set to be a tough battle. Portugal have played to their potential in the UEFA EURO 2012 and arguably the same cannot be said for Spain. Spain will play as expected and dominate the possession, while the Portuguese will b looking to catch them on the counter with their pacey wingers. It’s very hard to see Spain losing today as they have the experience and the extra bid of quality in their midfield which could be the difference between the two sides in Donetsk.

Predicted Score – Portugal 1-2 Spain

All Set For The Semi-Finals

Following Italy’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win against England, just four teams remain in the running to win the 2012 European Championship in Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday 1 July.

Holders Spain are aiming to become the first team to win three consecutive major tournaments but will have to get past Portugal in the first semi-final in Donetsk to keep that dream alive. The winners of that match will then keep a close eye on the action in Warsaw as Germany take on Italy for the right to join them in the final.

The semi-final action gets under way at the Donbass Arena on Wednesday night, with two-time winners Spain hoping to advance beyond their Iberian neighbours – just as they did in the round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when David Villa’s second-half strike sealed a 1-0 success for the eventual tournament victors. Portugal triumphed the last time the sides met at this level, however, Nuno Gomes earning a 1-0 group stage win for the hosts at UEFA EURO 2004 that knocked La Roja out. With Cristiano Ronaldo finding form and scoring all his team’s goals in the last two matches, Paulo Bento’s side will be hopeful of prevailing. Spain, though, will be high on confidence after a comfortable 2-0 success against France in the last round.

The following night, Italy take on Germany for the first time in a competitive fixture since the Azzurri ended their bid to clinch the 2006 World Cup on home soil in the semi-finals. Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero found the net in extra time to record a 2-0 victory in Dortmund, ten years after the last meeting between the teams in a UEFA European Championship – a 0-0 group stage draw at Old Trafford. Joachim Löw’s current crop are in excellent form at UEFA EURO 2012, being the only team to win all four of their games. They are also the competition’s top scorers so far, adding four more as they saw off Greece in the last eight. Italy have kept a lower profile, meanwhile, though they earned plaudits for their opening 1-1 draw with Spain and reached the last four by holding their nerve from the spot in Kyiv against England.

SEMI-FINALS

Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Portugal v Spain @ Donbass Arena, Donetsk

Thursday 28 June 2012
Germany v Italy @ National Stadium, Warsaw

FINALS

Sunday, 01 July 2012
Portugal/Spain v Germany/Italy @ Olympic Stadium, Kiev

Spain v France Preview

World champions Spain continue the defence of their UEFA EURO 2012 crown tonight when they take on France in a mouth-watering quarter-final clash at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

Vicente del Bosque’s La Roja have not been defeated in a competitive match since being shocked by Switzerland in the group stages on their way to winning the 2010 World Cup. Meanwhile, Laurent Blanc’s Les Bleus have lost just once, against Sweden in their last match of Euro 2012’s group stages, in 24 games. It therefore promises to be a closely-fought encounter in Donetsk and the winner will go through to face Portugal in the semi-finals.

Both France, 1998 world champions and 2000 kings of Europe, and Spain are two of the highest praised nations over the past 14 years of international football. But there is also an old score to settle, with Spain still stinging from being mugged by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup.

TEAM NEWS

Spain

Spain, who lost Carles Puyol and David Villa before Euro 2012 to injury, have no major new fitness concerns. Alvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Torres, Xabi Alonso – who will win his 100th cap if he plays – and Javi Martinez are all a booking away from a suspension.

France

France pair Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery sat out Wednesday’s training session due to “minor problems”. It remains to be seen whether Yohan Cabaye will return after the Newcastle United star missed the Sweden defeat with a thigh problem.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Spain Wins – 13
Draws – 6
France Wins – 11

FORM GUIDE

Spain – WWDWW
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China
30-May-12 – Friendly – Spain 4-1 South Korea

France – LWDWW
19-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Sweden 2-0 France
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Ukraine 0-2 France
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – France 1-1 England
05-Jun-12 – Friendly – France 4-0 Estonia
31-May-12 – Friendly – France 2-0 Serbia

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Xavi (Spain)
The pass master of the Spanish side, the Barcelona playmaker has yet to truly come alive at the UEFA EURO 2012 after being largely stiffled by defensive opponents. But against a France side that likes to play football, Xavi could be the key and finally be able to weave his magic and bring his team back to form.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona playmaker has been in fine form in the competition, and has been the main driving force behind a Spanish side without David Villa. Deployed on the left side of a 3-man attack, the 28-year-old frequently beats defenders and provides cutting passes, making him a fearful threat for defenders. Mathieu Debuchy, who is still learning his trade at the international level, could well be troubled by Iniesta.

Hugo Lloris (France)
The French skipper has had very little to do in terms of saves made in the tournament so far but thats going to change against Spain today. The Spanish will come and keep the ball and test the keeper at numerous occasions. The Lyon stopper will have to be at his very best to deny the defending champions from scoring an early goal.

Franck Ribery (France)
With Karim Benzema not able to find the back of the net with his national side, it could be down to the Bayern Munich winger to help the French beat Spain and claim a semi-final spot against Portugal, having claimed 10 goals during his international career and 16 this season for the German giants in all competitions last season.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The world and European champions are expected to lineup in the same 4-3-3 formation that helped them top their group. There won’t be much changes to side that defeated Croatia in the final game, maybe just one with Fabregas coming in for Fernando Torres. The Chelsea striker was disappointing against a tough Croatia side, while Fabregas on the other hand, provided the chipped ball that lead to Jesus Navas’ winner. The 6-man midfield worked well against Italy in the opening group game and will hopefully work well again today.

France (4-2-3-1): Hugo Lloris (C); Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Adil Rami, Gael Clichy; Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila; Jeremy Menez, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery; Karim Benzema.

Laurent Blanc’s men are expected to play with the 4-2-3-1 formation that has served them very well in past, but with a few changes. Arsenal’s Koscielny is expected to get his first start of the tournament in the heart of the defence alongside Adil Rami, in place of the suspended Philippe Mexes. Yohan Cabaye will also come in the side for Alou Diarra after sitting out of the Sweden defeat. Jeremy Menez is also expected to come in for the ineffective Hatem Ben Arfa, with the later seemed to be happy blasting shot over goal rather than passing to his teammates and creating chances.

MATCH ODDS

Spain 8/11 Draw 5/2 France 4/1

PREDICTION

Spain are the bookies favourites to win this game but it’s not going to be an easy on for the defending champions. Spain have a lot of individual talent in their squad but they haven’t performed their best as a team in the tournament so far and this could be the right time to do so against a not so strong French side, who were easily beaten by Sweden the other day. Spain will play their possession football and mostly in the opposition’s half, while France on the other hand, will look to park the bus in front of the goal and hit the Spaniards on the counter. Defending the whole game looks tough against a Spain side who have a good habit of winning tight games even when they aren’t playing their best.

Predicted Score – Spain 1-0 France

All Set For The Quarter-Finals

After 12 days and 24 matches, we are down to the knockout stages of the UEFA EURO 20012, and for the remaining eight teams, the prospect of winning the competition has edged that little bit closer.

Defending champions Spain are one team among the eight that qualified from their groups for a place in the quarter finals. Among the eight teams, six – Germany, Ialy, France, Spain, Greece and Czech Republic – are former winners. The other two – Portugal and England are also in the competition that will resume on Thursday when the Portuguese take on the Czech Republic in Warsaw.

Poland’s National Stadium in Warsaw will host the first quarter final between Czech Republic and Portugal – two teams who bounced back impressively from opening losses to win their remaining group games. The Czech, who topped Group A after registering wins over Greece and co-host Poland, will start as underdogs against Portugal – who defeated Netherlands in their final group game to qualify.

The second quarter final sees Germany take on Greece in Gdansk. Joachim Low’s men will look to continue their 100% winning run in Poland/Ukraine – they have won all their matches in the qualifying also – and seal a place in the last four, when they face Greece on Friday. But Fernando Santos’ men know a thing or two about springing a surprise as few expected them to qualify at the expense of Russia and also very few expected them to shock Portugal and win the championship back in 2004.

The match on Saturday sees world and European champions Spain take on France in the third quarter final in Donetsk. The last time these two teams met in a major competition, Les Bleus came from behind to eliminate the Spaniards in the last 16 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. That was the last time Spain suffered a knockout defeat. Spain topped their group following a nervy and less than impressive display against Croatia in their final game, while France were defeated by Sweden and had to settle for a second place in Group D.

The last quarter final in Kiev on Sunday is between Group D winners England an Italy. England exceeded all expectations by winning the group and have never reached the semi finals of the European Championships on foriegn soil and now are just one step away from it following back-to-back wins over Sweden and Ukraine. Italy, on the other, are unbeaten in the tournament so far and have made it through a tough Group C and are known for peaking at the right.

QUARTER FINALS

Thursday, 21 June 2012
Czech Republic v Portugal @ National Stadium, Warsaw

Friday, 22 June 2012
Germany v Greece @ PGE Arena, Gdansk

Saturday, 23 June 2012
Spain v France @ Donbass Arena, Donetsk

Sunday, 24 June 2012
England v Italy @ Olympic Stadium, Kiev

SEMI FINALS

Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Czech Republic/Portugal v Spain/France @ Donbass Arena, Donetsk

Thursday 28 June 2012
Germany/Greece v England/Italy @ National Stadium, Warsaw

FINAL

Sunday 1 July 2012
Winner of SF1 v Winner of SF2 @ Olympic Stadium, Kiev

England v Ukraine Preview

England – with the returning Wayne Rooney – take on the desperate co-hosts Ukraine the Donbass Arena in Donetsk today, knowing that a point is enough be enough to take them through to the last eight of the tournament.

Three Lions head coach Roy Hodgson will definitely pick talismanic striker Wayne Rooneyand he is facing the classic dilemma of who to drop to make way for him. Rooney will return to the team on Tuesday after completing his two-match suspension following his red card against Montenegro in Podgorica eight months ago. Either his Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck or Liverpool striker Andy Carroll will lose his place in the starting line-up. Carroll scored with a header and Welbeck cleverly flicked home the winner when England beat Sweden 3-2 on Friday which put them in sight of the last eight. “They have given me the classic manager’s headache but it’s the headache we all want really, because they are players are in-form and competing for a place,” said the former West Brom and Liverpool boss.

Oleh Blokhin’s side, on the other hand, need to win to make it past the group stage, so tensions will be high in what is sure to be an electrifying atmosphere. During the pre-match press conference, Blokhin said the pressure was on Ukraine’s opponents given their higher status in the game and greater expectations. “They are one of the favourites, so the pressure is on them,” he said. “We have a more relaxed approach, we have nothing to lose, even if we don’t get a great result, if we show fight on the pitch till last minute that will be no disgrace,” he said.

TEAM NEWS

England

With Wayne Rooney returning from his suspension, Hodgson has a clean bill of health in his squad with Theo Walcott available after a hamstring niggle. And the 64-year-old is content that expectation levels are rising in England after the opening two games which have garnered four points, but he can give no guarantee of success.

Ukraine

Meanwhile, Ukraine are sweating over the fitness of team captain Andriy Shevchenko who is rated as a “50-50 chance” of recovering from a knee injury in time for the decisive Group D clash. Shevchenko completed a squad training session on Monday, having sat out training the previous day because of a swollen left knee. But he remains an injury doubt and Blokhin says he will only decide whether or not to play the striker shortly before the match.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 4
England Wins – 3
Draws – 0
Ukraine Wins – 1

FORM GUIDE

England – WDWWL
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Sweden 2-3 England
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – France 1-1 England
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – England 1-0 Belgium
27-May-12 – Friendly – Norway 0-1 England
01-Mar-12 – Friendly – England 2-3 Netherlands

Ukraine – LWLLW
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Ukraine 0-2 France
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Ukraine 2-1 Sweden
05-Jun-12 – Friendly – Turkey 2-0 Ukraine
01-Jun-12 – Friendly – Austria 3-2 Ukraine
28-May-12 – Friendly – Ukraine 4-0 Estonia

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wayne Rooney (England)
The tournament finally starts for Wayne Rooney, as he is back and eager to play after serving a two match suspension. England have managed very well without him in the first two matches, but the Manchester United star is by far Three Lions’ most talented player in the squad. The 26-year-old, who has 35 goals for Manchester United this season, broke onto the scene in UEFA EURO 2004 scoring four goals, but his participation was cut short with an injury as England were dumped out by Portugal on penalties. And, with England failing to qualify for the UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria/Switzerland, Rooney has some unfinished business in the tournament. He will play in the role behind the striker, and will be the key link between the midfielders and the forward.

Ashley Young (England)
Young was tipped to fill in Wayne Rooney’s boot for the first two matches, when the striker was suspended for picking up a straight red card in the final qualifier against Montenegro, but the Manchester United winger failed to do. With his United colleague coming back from suspension, the pressure will be released from Young’s shoulder and that will probably make him play his natural game. The former Watford and Aston Villa man averages a goal and an assist every three game for England and his form will be key to their  further success in the tournament.

Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine)
Ukraine’s progidigal son has the backing and support of the whole nation and he answered their rallying cry against Sweden in the opening game scoring twice and helping the co-hosts register a historical win. The AC Milan legend has 50-50 chance of playing in this game due to injury but the striker would be very eager to play as this could be his final game for his country. The poacher is not getting any young and many may say his is past his days but he still has the knack of scoring some important goals and that’s what his country needs as they stand on brink of elimination.

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Ukraine)
Andriy Shevchenko may be the most important player to his country, but Tymoshchuk is not less important. The Bayern Munich midfielder who has 118 international caps to his name will be an key figure in the center of midfield as he will be the man looking to stop both Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard from creating chances. If the former Zenit St Petersburg man can do his job of nullifying the threats of the England duo, then Ukraine might have a chance of getting something out of this game or even may be upsetting the Three Lions.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

England (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard (C); Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young; Danny Welbeck.

Wayne Rooney will return to the starting XI after sitting out of the first two matches due to suspension. He will take Andy Carroll’s place in the lineup and play just behind his Manchester United teammate Danny Welbeck. Theo Walcott, whose match-winning cameo helped England knock Sweden out of the competition, has recovered from a slight injury and could start on the right wing with James Milner dropping to the bench. Ashley Young has been very unimpressive so far but will start on the left wing, with Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard in the center of the midfield. The back four will remain the same as Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole will form the quartet ahead of Joe Hart’s goal.

Ukraine (4-2-3-1): Andriy Pyatov; Oleg Gusev, Yevhen Khacheridi, Taras Mikhalik, Yevhen Selin; Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Serhiy Nazarenko; Andriy Yarmolenko, Andriy Voronin, Yevhen Konoplyanka; Andriy Shevchenko (C).

Andriy Shevchenko is a major doubt for this match with a knee injury but will be given all chance of proving his fitness and will mostly start keeping in mind this is a must win game for Ukraine and this could also be his last ever game for his country. If Shevchenko fails the late fitness test then Oleg Blokhin is likely to turn to Artem Milevskiy or Marko Devic to play as the lead striker ahead of Andriy Voronin. Blokhin has played the same defence and midfield in both games so far and no changes are expected, with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Serhiy Nazarenko shielding the back four, with the young Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko playing on the wings.

MATCH ODDS

England 1/1 Draw 12/5 Ukraine 11/4

PREDICTION

With Wayne Rooney returning, England are huge favourites to win the game but playing for a draw could be very dangerous. Wayne Rooney will start and will be key man, as he has the ability to greatly influence the game playing in the whole behind the striker. The onus will be on the co-hosts Ukraine, as they must win this and get all three points to qualify for the last eight or else they are out. A early goal for Oleh Blokhin’s side may cause some tensions in the English camp, but with the solid organise defence England have got, can’t see that happening. England will dominate the game from start to end, with Rooney making his presence felt.

Predicted Score – England 2-0 Ukraine

A Complete Guide To UEFA EURO 2012

It doesn’t seem possible that almost four years have passed since Iker Casillas and Spain lifted the Henri Delaunay Cup in Vienna. But with the qualifying campagin completed, the draw for the finals made and most of squad being announced, the countdown to UEFA EURO 2012 has begun.

Since its inception in 2960, the UEFA European Championship has gone from strength to strength with every tournament. Only four nations competed at the first finals in France, but in 2016 the number of participating teams will have expanded to 24. UEFA EURO 2012, though, will have the same format we have become used to since Euro 96 with 16 nations fighting it out for the trophy.

UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria & Switzerland was a resounding success. Spain were worthy champions and the brand of football they played gave fans across the world great pleasure. It was also the second time the tournamnet had been successfully staged across two joint host countries, and Poland and Ukraine will provide another exciting dimension as the finals head east. Millions of football fans will be present in Poland and Ukraine this summer to watch the action unfold, and soak up the unique atmosphere. Billions more will be glued to television sets, cheering their countried on from homes, offices, and pubs throught Europe and the world.

With just 10 days remaining for the first match to kickoff in Warsaw, the anticipation for the finals is getting bigger and bigger day by day. Here we provide you with a complete guide to get you in the mood for the finals. I hope you enjoy the tournament and the complete guide.

Overview

The final tournament of the 14th UEFA European Football Championship will be held in Poland and Ukraine from 8 June to 1 July 2012. It will be the third time that the final tournament is jointly hosted by two countries (after Belgium/Netherlands in 2000 and Austria/Switzerland in 2008).

Sixteen national teams will compete in a total of 31 matches to be crowned European champions. The format of four groups of four teams will be used for the last time in this tournament. The competition format will change for the next edition in 2016 as the lineup of participants competing in the final tournament will be increased to 24.

The UEFA EURO 2012 matches will be played in eight stadiums, four in Poland – Gdansk, Poznan, Warsaw, Wroclaw – and four in Ukraine – Donetsk, Lviv, Kharkiv and Kyiv. The opening match will take place in Warsaw on 8 June and the final on 1 July in Kyiv. No fewer than 1.4 million fans will be expected at the stadiums and the matches will be broadcast live in more than 200 territories around the world.

MATCH SCHEDULE

VENUES & STADIUMS

Eight cities have been selected by UEFA as host venues. In a return to the format used at Euro 1992, Euro 1996 and Euro 2008, each of the four groups will be based around two stadiums each. The host cities Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Poznan, Kiev, Lviv are all popular tourist destinations, unlike Donetsk and Kharkiv (the latter having replaced Dnipropetrovsk as a host city in 2009). The obligatory improvement of the football infrastructure includes the building of new stadiums: Six of the eight venues are brand new stadiums just built for the tournament, while the remaining two (in Poznan and Kharkiv) have undergone major renovations to improve them. Three of the stadiums will fulfill the criteria of UEFA’s highest category stadiums.

POLAND

National Stadium, Warsaw
Capacity 50,000
Club to be confirmed

Built on the site of the old Tenth Anniversary Stadium on the eastern bank of the Vistula, the facade of the new National Stadium Warsaw resembles a waving Polish flag. It will host the opening match of UEFA EURO 2012 on 8 June and is expected to become the new home of the Poland national team.

Games Poland v Greece (8/6), Poland v Russia (12/6), Greece v Russia (16/6), 1 x QF (21/6), 1 x SF (28/6).

Municipal Stadium, Wroclaw
Capacity 40,000
Club WKS Slask Wroclaw

Designed in the shape of a Chinese lantern, the newly built Municipal Stadium Wroclaw was official openined with a Geroge Michael concert on 17 September 2011. Two months later Italy’s Mario Balotelli scored the first international goal at the new ground in the 2-0 win against Poland.

Games Russia v Czech Republic (8/6), Greece v Czech Republic (12/6), Czech Republic (16/6)

Municipal Stadium, Poznan
Capacity 40,000
Club KKS Lech Poznan

Renowned for its excellent atmosphere, the original stadium was inagurated in 1980 and has undergone major renovation work to bring it up to standard for UEFA EURO 2012. The new Municipal Stadium Poznan opened its door for the first for a Sting concert on 20 September 2010.

Games Republic of Ireland v Croatia (10/6), Italy v Croatia (14/6), Italy v Republic Ireland (18/6)

PGE Arena, Gdansk
Capacity 40,000
Club KKS Lech Poznan

Located in Gdnask’s Letnica neighbourhood, construction of the PGE Arena began in 2008 and was completed in 2011. The exterior is designed to resemble amber, which has long been extracted along the Baltic coast. Poland’s 2-2 draw with Germany on 6 September 2011 was the first ever match played in the new stadium. The stadium will host three group C games and one quarter final.

Games Spain v Italy (10/6), Spain v Republic of Ireland (14/6), Croatia v Spain (18/6), 1 x QF (22/6)

UKRAINE

Olympic Stadium, Kyiv
Capacity 60,000
Club Ukrainian national team

With a 60,000 capacity and a striking new transparent roof, the new-look Olympic Stadium is UEFA EURO 2012’s largest venue and will host the final on 1 July. Ukraine’s first match at the renovated groud was a thrilling 3-3 draw against Germany on 11 November 2011.

Games Ukraine v Sweden (11/6), Sweden v England (15/6), Sweden v France (19/6), 1 x QF (24/6), Final (1/7)

Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Capacity 50,000
Club FC Shakhtar Donetsk

The Donbass Arena was opened in August 2009 and boasts UEFA elite status, qualifying it to the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League finals. Home to UEFA Champions League regulars FC Shakhtar Donetsk, it will stage five matches during UEFA EURO 2012, including a semi-final.

Games France v England (11/6), Ukraine v France (15/6), England v Ukraine (19/6), 1 x OF (23/6), 1 x SF (27/6)

Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv
Capacity 35,000
Club FC Metalist Kharkiv

First build in 1926, the stadium has undergone several facelifts down the years, none more striking that its current guise. Known locally as the Spider Arene because of its roof supports resemble an arachnid’s legs, it was first known as the Traktor Stadium, named after a local tractor production plant.

Games Holland v Denmark (9/6), Holland v Germany (13/6), Portugal v Holland (17/6)

Arena Lviv, Lviv
Capacity 30,000
Club to be confirmed

Constructed specifically for the finals, this two-tired stadium offers fans perfect slightlines, while a walkway at the back of the lower tier provides a sense of space. The Arena Lviv, which opened on 29 October 2011, will host three Group B matches.

Games Germany v Portugal (9/6), Denmark v Portugal (13/6), Denmark v Germany (17/6)

LOGO & SLOGAN

The purpose of the logo and slogan is to give UEFA EURO 2012 its own personality, to help promote the tournament and to enhance the prestige of one of the world’s biggest sporting events by providing an easily recognisable identity, while at the same time bringing in a distinctive flavour of the host countries. The official logo and slogan for UEFA EURO 2012 were launched at a special event in Kyiv’s Mykhailivska Square on 14 December 2009.

The logo
The logo takes its visual lead from wycinanka art, a traditional form of paper cutting practised in rural areas of Poland and Ukraine. The wycinanka art form symbolises the fauna and flora of the local regions in a tribute to mother nature, representing the worship of the land and true respect for continuous growth, prosperity and fertility.

The slogan – Creating History Together
UEFA EURO 2012 is the next chapter in a story that started back in 1960 with the first edition of the UEFA European Football Championship. The staging of the final tournament in Poland and Ukraine, the first in central and eastern Europe, will definitely have a prominent place in history books.

Everyone involved in UEFA EURO 2012 including organisers, host countries, host cities, players, travelling supporters and fans at home are all contributing to another chapter of European and football history.

MASCOT

Following the footsteps of Trix and Flix at UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, Slavek and Slavko are dterminded to prove once more that two are better than one. A mascot introduced for the first time in a UEFA European Championship in 1980 when Pinocchio took to the pitch for Italy and they have been mainstay ever since. Slavek and Slavko have alreadt made their mark with nearly 40,000 people voting in a poll to choose their names. UEFA EURO 2012 ambassador Zbigniew Boniek believes Slavek, wearing the white of Poland in a No20 shirt, could be something of a luck charm for his nation. “This number was good for the national team, it brought me a lot of luck,” he said. “As No20 I scored three famours goals against Belgium at the 1982 World Cup while Grzegorz Lato had this number too.” His Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Shevchenko added: “I have seen that the mascots can play good football too and that is good sign for the tournament.”

AMBASSADORS

Some of the biggest names in Polish and Ukrainian football are helping to promote the tournament as UEFA EURO 2012 ambassadors. Former internationals Zbigniew Boniek and Andrzej Szarmach are flying the flag for Poland, while FC Dynamo Kyiv and Ukraine greats Oleh Blokhin and Andriy Shevchenko are doing everything they can in Ukraine, both on and off the pitch, to help ensure the championship’s success. “It is very important for Ukraine, not only in terms of football development but also for the development of the country and its poeple,” said Shevchenko, who will captain Blokhin’s national side next summer. Boneik, capped 80 times by his country and a member of the Poland team that finished third at the 1982 FIFA World Cup, is looking forward to showing his native land in the best possible light. “It is a fantastic opportunity to show the world what a great country we are,” he said. “I would say to all the fans: come to Poland and see what we have to offer – amazing historical sities and extraordinary countryside and cities.”

VOLUNTEERS

A competition record 23,965 people from across the world have applied to work as volunteers during the tournament from which number 5,500 have been selected to provide support for UEFA’s staff at the event. Volunteering is vital to ensure the smooth running of a successful EURO, and all positions had been made available in 20 different areas of operations from ticketing to transport and accommodation. Former Poland and world heavyweight boxing champions Vitaliy Klitschko both gave their backing to the recruitment drive, with the latter declaring: “I know how many people expect a miracle from EURO 2012, but it will not happen unless each of us contributes to the success of the football festival.”

MATCH BALL

The official match ball for UEFA Euro 2012 is the Adidas Tango 12, which is designed to be easier to dribble and control than the reportedly unpredictable Adidas Jabulani used at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Complete detailed information about the ball over here.

MUSIC

The official UEFA EURO 2012 song is “Endless Summer” by the German singer Oceana – whose 2009 hit Cry Cry topped the charts in Poland and Ukraine as well as other European countries, and featured a video shot in Kyiv. In addition, UEFA has retained the melody that was composed by Rollo Armstrong of Faithless on its behalf for the 2008 tournament. The official Polish song for the tournament is “Koko Euro Spoko” by the folk band Jarzebina. The Republic of Ireland has also produced an official song: “The Rocky Road to Poland” recorded by a collaboration of Irish performers has already reached number 1 in Ireland.

TICKETS

Tickets were sold directly by UEFA via its website, or are to be distributed by the football associations of the 16 finalists. Applications had to be made during March 2011 for the 1.4 million tickets available for the 31 tournament matches. Over 12 million applications were received, which represented a 17% increase on the 2008 finals, and an all-time record for the UEFA European Championship. Owing to this over-subscription for the matches, lotteries were carried out to allocate tickets. Prices varied from €30 (£25) (for a seat behind the goals at a group match) to €600 (£513) (for a seat in the main stand at the final). In addition to individual match tickets, fans could buy packages to see either all matches played by one team, or all matches at one specific venue. In May 2012 UEFA will start sending tickets to fans which bought tickets also immediately UEFA will start selling additional tickets on ticketing website.

TROPHY

Spain’s Iker Casillas had the pleasure of becoming the first captain to lift the updated version of the Henri Delaunay Cup in June 2008, with the new trophy a fitting replacement for the prize that has been synonymous with the UEFA European Championship. The second version of the trophy is based on the original designed by Arthus-Bertrand in 1960 and named after Henri Delaunay, the former president of the French Football Federation and UEFA’s first general secretary, from the body’s founding on 15 June 1954 to 9 November 1955. It is 18cm higher and 2kg heavier than the original, made of sterling silver, and has retained its historical name. The trophy was reincarnated to reflect the scale and size of Europe’s most prestigious international tournament.

The responsibility for creating the original went to Pierre Delaunay, son of Henri, the visionary behind the competition. Henri Delaunay died in 1955 before seeing his idea come to fruition, but the updated prize is testament to his enduring legacy, maintaining its classic style. Minor differences between the original and updated version include the silver base being enlarged to make it stable. In addition, the names of the winning countries that had appeared on the plinth have been engraved on the back of the trophy, which weighs 8kg and is 60cm tall. Unlike the original, which was the work of the Chobillon goldsmith and was later bought by Arthus-Bertrand in Paris, the making of the modern equivalent was entrusted to Asprey London. Asprey, renowned silversmiths, jewellers and goldsmiths, have a long history of trophy-making stretching back to the America’s Cup, which their sister company Garrard produced in 1848. UEFA wanted to improve on the quality but also the scale of the trophy, and have a focal point for the event – it was felt that the original trophy was too small to do this.