Euro 2012: Expert v Expert Preview - Ukraine v Sweden

Ukrainian perspective: Matthew Harris

Ukraine begin their campaign with a match from which you feel they simply have to get a result if they are to progress into the quarter-finals. The most likely route out of group D for Oleh Blokhin and his side is finishing second to France and that means taking points from England and from this fixture against Sweden.

Added pressure will be put on a squad that disappointed in warm up defeats to Austria and Turkey, and there is a danger that all of this will result in the Ukrainian’s capitulation.

To win, or even to draw, they will have to play to their strengths, which lie largely in midfield. Veteran Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Oleh Husyev, who scored twice against Austria, should patrol the centre while Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka provide most of Ukraine’s chances from the flanks.

The wingers are key to the Ukraine’s chances of success, but there are doubts over who will score the goals to win the group games. Andriy Shevchenko is the country’s all-time leading scorer but he is ageing, injury prone and by no means guaranteed a start. Elsewhere, the forwards in the squad tend to play as support strikers for their club sides and no one has a record to that compares to Shevchenko’s.

At the back, Rakitskiy and Khacheridi may start in central defence and while they are a solid pairing, they have an issue with discipline. Ibrahimovic et al could play on that weakness and the defence as a whole will need to stay composed and not concede needless free kicks.

If I were to tip a Ukraine win, it would be a case of letting my heart rule my head and in betting you just can’t let that happen. Sadly, I can see the opposition being too strong and a 3-1 Swedish victory is a fearful but realistic prospect.

Score Prediction: Ukraine 1-3 Sweden

Sweden to win the opener at 3.00; over 3.5 goals at 4.20; Sweden 3-1 at a hefty 26.00


Swedish perspective: Charlie Anderson

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the longer you spend getting ready, the more likely it is that someone will turn up to the party wearing the same outfit as you. Sure enough, Ukraine’s big night is about to be gatecrashed by another team that wears yellow and blue.

There are a few question marks over Erik Hamrén’s teamsheet before they take on the hosts. Mikael Lustig, a dynamic right-back with lungs like twin dirigibles, has struggled for fitness. Not only does Sweden’s system depend hugely on Lustig, but he’s also the only proper right-back in the squad; the alternatives are the centre-back Andreas Granqvist or the winger Sebastian Larsson.

Hamrén also needs to pick a partner for Olof Mellberg in central defence. This will probably be Granqvist, who played the warm-up game against Serbia, but Hamrén might fancy the more rustic virtues of Jonas Olsson to put the shackles on Andriy Shevchenko.

The talented but inexperienced Rasmus Elm will probably lose out to veteran Anders Svensson in the race to partner Kim Källström in deep midfield. Elm looks a good bet for a spot on the left wing, though – he’s far too good to sit on the bench.

Sweden’s opening game will be won and lost on two questions. Firstly, will Johan Elmander be fit? His stand-in Ola Toivonen got a goal and an assist against Serbia, but Elmander works harder and has a better partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimović. Much of Sweden’s fluency depends on whether Elmander can play through the pain of his still-healing metatarsal.

Second, will their fullbacks deal with Ukraine’s wingers? Oleh Blokhin wants to play down the wings, and Erik Hamrén likes to get Lustig and Martin Olsson forward. Something has to give.

A trip to the 70,000-seat Olympiyskiy is a daunting prospect, but Sweden won’t be overwhelmed. They’re level-headed enough to block out the wall of noise around them and make sure this game is decided on nothing more than the teams’ merits.

Score prediction: Ukraine 1-2 Sweden

Sweden to win at 2.95; both teams to score at 1.88; Ibrahimovic to score in a Sweden win at 6.50.